I was pondering a New Year’s Eve message for this dark, beautiful and often challenging time of year. But when I took a break and scrolled through my Facebook feed, I came across a note from my friend Paul Robertson, who put things so much more beautifully than I ever could. So it’s his words that I’ll share with you tonight.
I met Paul through roller derby (which is really part sport and part big, zany, worldwide family), where I’m an announcer (and an occasional photographer). I’m a little fish in this pond, but he’s the Big Kahuna. He’s known as Preflash Gordon in this alternate world we share. He’s one of the best roller derby photographers in the game, an instantly recognizable figure in bib overalls who specializes in capturing action shots the rest of us can only dream getting.
When Paul/Preflash (sorry, it’s really hard for me not to use someone’s derby name!) isn’t photographing roller derby bouts, he’s driving a semi across the country with his cat, Percy. His observations, his candid photos and his wry sense of humor give him a unique perspective on the world.
Percy at rest. Photo by Paul Robertson.
If you live in the Midwest, you might have heard of Percy and Paul. The story of Percy’s disappearance from an Ohio truck stop, his owner’s despair, a multi-state kitty search party and Percy’s improbable road trip went viral earlier this year. Minnesota Public Radio’s story, “Percy The Trucker Cat,” and Paul’s interview with MPR host Tom Weber are among my favorite news items of 2017.
Paul was in the truck when he wrote the post that caught my eye. He wrote it on Christmas Day, but I think it offers us a little truth for every quiet night of this deep midwinter season. I can’t think of a better way to end this year than with his words. I can hear his voice and feel his heart in them. And that’s a beautiful, powerful thing.
Happy New Year to you all. I hope you stay strong and stay safe as we move through this season of darkness. I’ll let Paul take it from here.
All words and images from here until the bold questions at the end are provided by Paul Preflash Gordon.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays to you and your family and loved ones. I ended up driving all day today but that’s okay, I’ll have a nice break tomorrow after I make my delivery and catch up on leftover turkey and stuffing. And you know, it’s kind of fun to drive hundreds of miles on Christmas eve and Christmas Day … you get to see a little bit of the world all dressed up with lights and front-yard figures, everything looking as pretty as a picture.
One of my favorite things is little farmsteads in the middle of nowhere where the family has still taken the trouble to put up lights and decorations. They’re like little holiday pastries of light and twinkle that have fallen from the sky and landed with a pouf on a wide, flat plain of white icing. Pure magic! I saw plenty of those today.
I hope you had a great day and got lots of presents, or even better, got one or two cherished gifts (or signs) that show you that you are loved. And if this year is one of those tough years for you, I want you to know that I’m thinking of you, and so are plenty of others, even if they haven’t said so. Hang in there. Don’t let the symbolism of our crazy modern culture fool you; today isn’t about presents, it isn’t about food, it isn’t about obligations … it isn’t about any of that.
This holiday, and the others like it that occur at this time of year, are born of an ancient past when we all lived on farms and the winter could sometimes be a season of very real peril, where people put their animals in the barn and retreated to their homes and burned fuel sparely and ate provisions lightly and hoped spring would come soon. We live in a world now where jams in jars are a quaint treat, but they come from a time when you preserved food because there were no cans, no stores, and if you ran out in the middle of winter you would die.
And this holiday today, and the other midwinter holidays … they are solstice festivals. They are about people gathering together in the deep uncertain darkness of midwinter and lighting candles in the town hall, praying to their maker, and then laying on a feast and searching the crowded room for familiar faces, anxious to know their friends and loved ones are all right. It’s about hard-faced men and resolute women dressed in fur and blankets grasping each other and saying, “Are you well? Are you making it? We’re halfway through the freezing time. It’s good to see you’re okay.”
And it’s also about reaching out. Because everyone in the room knows that sometimes it’s *not* okay. Sometimes the crops weren’t so good, or there was a blight or fungus in the seed corn, or the preserves were shattered. Where things were a bit shaky, and you had to turn to the community and ask for help. And if course they would help! Because they love you. And because in another year, another time, it will be them who is doing the asking.
A view of the Rocky Mountains from the road. Photo by Paul Robertson.
So if this is a hard year for you, if you’re sad, if you’re missing someone you lost, or feel like you’re facing an uphill that just won’t end … if that’s you, then please remember that your pain doesn’t put you outside the holiday. It puts you right smack at the center of it. Because in the deep of this winter on its darkest day (almost) we do the most wonderfully human of things: We reach out to one another and make sure we’re okay. Love and community. As Jacob Marley said: “Mankind was my business!” That’s what Christmas is all about. So hang in there, kiddo. And also, reach out, if you can. There are plenty of souls who’d love to give you a candy cane of love and help. Let them.
And now I’m going to turn off the truck and (soon) snooze. And when I do, I hope I dream about that one farm I passed earlier this evening, where the family had strung lights allllll the way around the fence that surrounded the whole darn thing. It must have been a mile long. Red and blue and green twinkling lights in the snow. Crazy. And wonderful. And beautiful. Just like all of us.
What about you?
How will you be ringing in the New Year?
What’s your favorite midwinter holiday?
What does this season mean for you? How does winter challenge you (and all of us) in modern times?
How can we help each other bring a little light to these dark days?
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