Happy End of the Creeping Darkness!

6:03 pm ET marked this year’s winter solstice, ending the creeping darkness. “Solstice” comes from two Latin words, sol meaning “sun” and sistere meaning “stationary” because on this day, in the northern hemisphere, the sun seems to stand still, as if garnering it’s strength to fight back the darkness.

Technically, the winter solstice marks the moment when there is a 23.5-degree tilt in Earth’s axis and the North Pole is at its furthest point from the sun — from here on, the days will get longer, gaining us an additional 6 and 1/2 hours of sunlight per day by June 21st when the days begin to get shorter again. (This is reversed in the southern hemisphere, so today those down under will be celebrating their summer solstice.)

Though neo-pagans have claimed the solstice for their own, this is one of those natural holidays (holy days) that we all should be celebrating. The end of the lengthening nights. The triumph of light over darkness. We don’t even need the metaphors of light=good and dark=bad to find reason to celebrate this day. It’s simply a day of stillness, of hope. A day to give thanks for the promise that even in our darkest hour, light will return.

My celebration was simple. I lit my bowls of light and went outside and toasted the pale winter sun with champagne. Well, it was really sparking apple/pear cider, but the sun didn’t seem to care. It slid beneath the cloud-shrouded mountains without even a wink or a nod to acknowledge my obeisance. But it will return with greater strength tomorrow. And so will I.

Wishing you a bright and hopeful end of the creeping darkness.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

It’s Christmas, Not Santamas

Conrad Guest, author of A Retrospect In Death and A World Without Music (plus several other books) just posted a blog about tolerance, and how there seems to be so little of it, especially now during the Christmas season.

Guest wrote: I’ve long remained publically mute on the subject of Christmas, but this year I voice my opinion. You’re offended that I celebrate Christmas as the birth of a Messiah. You tell me he is but a myth. I have news for you. Santa isn’t real. He doesn’t make toys at his home at the North Pole, nor does he circle the globe on Christmas Eve to deliver toys down the chimneys of billions of people—many who don’t have chimneys. I don’t push on you my belief in God, even though, in my mind, there is a greater chance that He exists than does Santa. But go ahead, put up on your front lawn your inflatable Santa, and the sleigh and reindeer on your roof. I can tolerate that, even if you can’t tolerate the nativity scene on my lawn, and petition City Hall to make me take it down.

nativityHis words struck a chord with me. I get annoyed with having to pander to the intolerant at this time of year. It’s CHRISTmas, for cripes sake. That’s the whole point of the day. No matter what non-Christians are trying to make us all believe, the day is not Santamas. I am sick of the constant message that we must believe in Santa Claus, sick of having that stupid myth foisted on me, sick of the eternal seesawing there is/isn’t a Santa Claus. If people are so willing to accept Santa as an icon of the season (an icon who so obviously isn’t real) then what difference does it make to them if some people use crèches or some other image to personify the day? Crèches are the spirit of the day and more fitting than santas and elves and those stupid flying reindeer. Taking that red-suited image to the height of absurdity, a neighbor has a nativity scene with a Santa praying over the baby. Huh?

I simply don’t get it. Since the non-Christian world adapted a Christian holy day for their own, then they cannot complain about the religiosity. (Supposedly the Christians co-opted a Roman holiday, so it’s ironic that the same thing is happening again but to Christians this time.) Sometimes when I see one message too many about how we can no longer say, “Merry Christmas” because it offends some people, I just want to scream, “Get over it, folks, It’s CHRISTmas. If you don’t like it, start your own damn holiday.”

The Santa myth is particularly odious since the obese gent so obviously favors the rich. It makes poorer kids feel bad that they weren’t good enough to get the rich-kid stuff they wanted. And why engender a belief in such a ridiculous myth in the first place? I knew a guy who fought in Vietnam. There they were at Christmas, hunkered down on some God-forsaken hill that they had just taken for the second or third time. They got to talking about the most disillusioning moment in their lives, and almost all of them said it was when they found out there was no Santa Claus. Why are people still perpetuating such a lie and for no particular reason?

Oops. Sorry. Didn’t mean to get on my soapbox, but as I said, J. Conrad Guest really hit a chord. Wishing you all a tolerant and happy Christmas season.

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Related post: What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas?

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Raining Deer

This is the season where deer seem to rain down on us by the bucket loads, where they reign in various decorations, where they are often seen yoked together by reins.

You’d think reindeer would refer to those reins but the “rein” part of reindeer comes from the old Norse word for the creature: hreinn, so a literal translation of reindeer is actually “reindeerdeer”.

Reindeer used to run wild in Britain, but became extinct long before the Celts and Anglo Saxons showed up. Now they live primarily in the Arctic tundra and northern boreal forests (boreal seems to mean just south of the arctic, but I don’t guarantee that definition.)

But where did the idea of flying reindeer come from?

Some folks have postulated that while reindeer don’t make the fabled winter trip, people do. Donald Pfister, a biologist who studies fungi at Harvard University, suggests that Siberian tribesmen who ingested fly agaric may have hallucinated into thinking that reinddeereer were flying. Making a correlation to Santa is the idea that Shamans in the Siberian and Arctic regions dropped into locals’ teepeelike homes with a bag full of hallucinatory mushrooms as presents in late December, and since the doors of these places were often blocked by snow, the shamans came down the smoke holes. Add to that mix the fact that the mushrooms were red with white trim (spots, not fur) and the possibility of the shamans taking on reindeer spirits, you have a story not exactly fit for children. But it could explain why Santa lives at the North Pole — that’s where the story originated. (I always thought he lived there because if he lived anywhere else, Denver, for example, it could be easily proven that there is no Santa Claus.)

In 1821, the first known reference to flying reindeer found its way into the Santa myth (an interweaving of St. Nicholas and the Dutch Sinterklaas). The author of the poem “A New Year’s Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve Number III” was kept a secret, but the editor of the piece claimed the author heard from his mother, an Indian of the area, that reindeer could fly. (“ ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” was published in 1923.)

Well, I hung my stocking by the chimney with care (I had to, otherwise it would have fallen down), though I have no hope that some red-suited fellow will soon be filling it. In fact, I hope he doesn’t. Would scare me half to death to see a stranger inside this house.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fire,andDaughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Bowls of Light

When I was sorting through some of my things in preparation to packing them and putting them in storage, I found a whole slew of Christmas lights. It seems ridiculous to store the lights considering how cheap they are, wasteful to throw them away, and silly to drag them to a thrift shop, so I decided to use them up. I put bowls full of lights all over the house, and oh! What a festive air!

bowl of lights

bowl of lights

bowl of lights

cookie jar of lights

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fire,andDaughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

An Epic Adventure

During the past couple of years, I’ve been blogging about my yearning for an epic adventure. I’ve talked about walking up the Pacific coast, thru walking the Pacific Crest Trail, getting a small camper to roam the country and visit all my online friends. The last I might still do, but the first two are supreme athletic feats for which I simply do not have the feet. (Or the body, either!)

To me, an epic adventure is more than an athletic feat. It is a transcendental experience, one that allows us to transcend our daily experience, going beyond what we know, and somehow being transformed in the process. Such an endurance test would include physical challenges and encompass the whole range of human emotions.

And such an epic adventure came looking for me.

My Hawaiian dance class was invited to participate in a dance concert put on by the local college. Our teacher picked out two numbers — “Green Rose,” a Kahiko chant, and “Nani Wali Nahala,” a dance using bamboo sticks. (Have you ever seen Donovan’s Reef where the dancers danced with sticks? Our dance was faster and more complicated, but you get the idea.) Then we practiced. And practiced. And practiced.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned that I’m musically challenged. My ears hear all the various strains, themes, and tracks of a song as a single entity. It’s very difficult for me to pick out a beat or single note from the mélange. And yet, I was chosen to lead the class out on stage. (It had nothing to do with expertise. It was more of a height thing — the woman at the other end of the stage was the same height as I was, and I happened to be there for all the practices.)

I did learn to pick the right note, count the requisite number of beats before heading into the limelight, and keep time while leading the way, yet it was always an adrenaline-filled, nerve-jangling moment when I made my entrance, whether in class or in dress rehearsal.

This epic adventure spanned five days. Our class’s dress rehearsal on Wednesday. The dress rehearsal for the entire cast on Thursday (a nine-hour endurance test, mostly boredom interspersed with moments of heart-pounding and palm-sweating nervousness when we lined up for our turns). Two performances on Friday. One performance on Saturday evening. A Sunday matinee.

By the end of the day on Thursday, and even after the first show on Friday morning, some of us were wondering if the whole thing was worth it, but by Friday night we got into stride (it helped that as soon as I stepped on stage, we got a big round of applause. Sure made smiling easier!). Saturday slipped by as if this were our new life, and Sunday, though fun, was simply another day. The stage had become our life. Then it was over and somehow we had to come back to our normal lives.

Or maybe not.

Such an epic adventure, encompassing as it did the endurance test of waiting for our turns, the physical feat of dancing, the emotional highs and lows — fun and boring, exhausting and exhilarating, challenging and nerve wracking — had to have changed us somehow. Well, changed me anyway. The others have done such marathon concerts before, but it was a first for me. (Me? Dancing on stage? Seems unreal, to be honest.) Change ripples into our lives, creating a new reality. The odd thing is, I might never notice it. Change might rock our world, but since we rock with it, we are always on sure footing.

Oddly, the thing that made it all seem worthwhile for me during that second interminable day of dress rehearsal, is that whenever any of us questioned why were we doing such a thing, I’d look at us and say with a smile, “but we look so adorable.” And maybe something as simple as that is what keeps one moving ahead on an epic adventure. Because, of course, we did look adorable. It might even have been part of the adventure. We are all long past the “adorable” stage of our lives, and yet, here we are (I’m the second face from the right):

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Welcome Rejection

Usually rejections are accompanied by regret or demorialization, but I can honestly say this rejection comes as a welcome relief.

I had applied for a Pacific Crest Trail sponsorship, and today I got this message:

Thanks for applying to our mYAMAdventure program.  This is the part of the program that I hate: I’m afraid we’re not able to extend an invitation to you this year.  We received over 100 applications, and narrowing them down to just five was a true challenge.  It’s a shame we can’t work with all of you.

I wish you all the best in your pursuits on the PCT!  If you haven’t already, check out the following resources for a start with your planning:

Yogi’s PCT Handbook: http://www.yogisbooks.com/pacific-crest-trail/pct-yogis-pacific-crest-trail-handbook
pct-l mailing list: http://mailman.backcountry.net/mailman/listinfo/pct-l
Postholer forums: http://postholer.com/

Yay! Making the starting date for the hike would have put too much pressure in my already stressed-to-the-limit life. And it would not have brought me the simplicity I crave. As I have learned, thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is an athletic event where participants challenge themselves to complete the hike within the allotted weather window, more of an obstacle race than the transcendental walk I had envisioned!

So, where does this leave me? When I figure that out, I’ll let you know.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

Using Dance

When I told an acquaintance I was taking classical dance lessons — ballet, jazz, tap — she gave me a blank-eyed stare and said, “How do you use it?” From her point of view, the question apparently seemed logical. She had once taken ballroom dancing, and she could use her skill if/when she went to a ballroom or nightclub or wherever such dancing takes place. I have no corresponding “use” for classical dancing, though I have been invited to participate in a few performances so I have used some of the dances I know.

danceStill, in the year and a third that I’ve been going to class, I never once considered whether there was a use for dancing. If anything, it’s more that dance has a use for me. It takes me beyond myself and at the same time, takes me into myself, making me more comfortable with who I am than I’ve ever been in my entire life. (I think it has something to do with living in front of a mirror for all those hours each week.) It’s the only thing I’ve ever done that demands all of me — mind, body, spirit, strength, dedication, loyalty. (I listed “mind” first without even thinking about it, and I was going to change the order to put body first, but this is the right order. Without the mind — learning, memory, imagining — there is no dance.)

Dance is a generous taskmaster and gives back more than it demands. Although I am nowhere near as graceful, balanced, and strong as I would like to be, I have come a long way since I began taking lessons. I can feel muscles now where there used to be . . . whatever there used to be. And I am a bit more balanced and graceful than I was before. Best of all, these benefits will remain with me even when I can no longer take dance classes.

There’s no need to “use” dance. Dance is its own reason for being.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

You Matter

I received this letter yesterday:

Dear Pat,

Give more than presents this holiday season, share the gift of caring with those who matter to you most!

With the holidays around the corner, the USC School of Social Work believes that there is no better time to encourage random acts of kindness. The simple act of telling someone why they matter could have a bigger impact than you know. For that reason, you’re invited to participate in You Matter, a grassroots campaign designed to foster well-being and bring back some much-needed human connection. We are on a mission to spread as much positivity as possible, and we hope that you’ll join us!

There are four easy steps to participate in #YouMatter:

1) Download a Care Card from the MSW@USC blog.

2) Write a message with someone in mind.

3) Snap a picture of your card and share on social media using the hashtag #youmatter and tag us @youmatterbc to inspire others.

4) Give the Care Card to someone and make that person’s day!

There’s never a better time than now to show others that that they matter in this world. If you love this campaign as much as we do, we ask that you please pay it forward by featuring #YouMatter on your blog.

Wishing you a wonderful and safe holiday season,

Gaby Acosta

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Sounds like an interesting campaign, even if she did neglect to tell me I matter!

If you’re interested in participating in this project, here is a “you matter” template to use. (Just right click and “save image as…) I was going to fill in the template, but in the end decided there was no “because.” You matter. It’s as simple as that.

you matter

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Stressed to My Limits

I’m sitting here, wondering if I should write this post. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, so I’m hoping the women involved don’t read this or if they do that they don’t fret, and yet, ever since my life mate/soul mate died, I’ve tried to write my truth.

I had lunch today with some friends after dance class. (Got to replenish those expended calories!) I was the only single woman at the table. All the rest were divorced and remarried. Not that their marital state is a problem for me anymore. I’ve gotten used to being the only uncoupled person in most situations. Nor did I think anything of their topic of conversation at first. I’ve heard it before — they all contend that losing a husband to divorce is worse than losing him to death because with divorce, he’s still around, especially if there are offspring involved.

But today I am feeling fragile. It’s only been a month since my father’s death, and although I am not grieving him the way I grieved for Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, my father’s demise has upset my equilibriumtugofwar. I am aware of his empty place at the couch, his books, reading glasses, and magnifier stacked neatly the way he left them. I know he led a long and happy life, but his absence still is ever present.

Even worse, this is the second time in less than five years that my living situation has been thrown into upheaval by death, and this time I do not have a fall back position. The whole world lies open before me, but I don’t know what to do with it. To add to the complications, I need to pack in anticipation of leaving this house, which will be put on the market in a few weeks. I’d already gotten rid of the bulk of Jeff’s things before I came here, but what remains are “our things” along with what is left of his effects — things so emotionally laden that I simply could not dispose of them during that worst day of my life when I cleaned out his closet and drawers and prized possessions. And now I have to figure out what to do with it all. Oddly, the only thing so far that set off an emotional storm was the container of refrigerator magnets we used to use. Other things, like his favorite jacket and the sweater he wore when we met, I stoicly repacked because I still can’t deal with them.

Did I mention the sun sets at 4:30 around here? And I am prone to SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

So this was my state of mind as I listened to my lunch companions talk. And oh, my poor heart ached. I would give anything to see Jeff one more time. Even if he had gone to be with another woman and left me destitute in the process, I would still be glad to know that he was alive and well. I’d be angry, of course, heartbroken and humiliated, but I so loved him that his well-being meant more to me than my own. (I’m only now learning to put myself first, but that could be because there’s no one left in my life to care about that deeply. I’ve lost them all one way or another — Jeff, the two brothers closest to me in age, my parents, a very special friend.)

I no longer know who has it worst when it comes to grief — the divorced, the widowed, those who lost a child, parent, lover, sibling, best friend, pet. I no longer care. We all suffer heartache and grief in our lives. We all deal with it as best as we can (or let it deal with us). In my case, this conversation mostly served to show me how vulnerable I still am, how much I still miss him, how much his being dead is still a part of my life.

God may provide, the universe might be unfolding as it should be, everything could be falling into place, my destiny might be waiting, life could be what is happening while I am making other plans (or whatever aphorism it is that you believe), but the truth is, at the moment, I am stressed to the limits.

I keep saying that however things turn out, I’ll be okay. And I mean it. Just not today.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Sorting and Storing and Stewing

I’ve spent the last couple of mornings sorting through my stuff, disposing of some, repacking the rest.

It’s hard because I need to be hard on myself. Do I really need three sets of pots and pans, a dozen assorted knives, and two sets of flatware? (His and mine.) Do I really need six lamps? (All ours.) What do I need to pack for long-term storage? What might I need in the next few months?

And it’s hard because I don’t know what life I am packing for. I plan to stay in this vicinity for a while longer, though I have no idea what that “stay” will involve since I don’t know how long I will be allowed to live in my father’s house, and the very thought of renting an apartment and settling down for the duration of a lease gives me the willies.

[Just spent an hour looking for the origin of the phrase “gives me the willies.” Apparently, it’s been around for hundreds of years since it shows up in print in the nineteenth century. Though there is much speculation about the origins of this particular phrase, no one knows for sure. One possibility comes from William Morris, the Word Detective, who speculates that willies might come from the name of a Slavic sprite called a vila (plural vili “sprites”) sometimes translated as wili.]

Nor do I know what my life will be like a few months from now. Will I give in to the need to be mobile and deal with the discomforts and dangers of being a nomad? Will I give in to the need to be warm and comfortable and deal wstewith the stagnation and entropy of being settled? If I opt to be a nomad, will I get a camper, or set out on foot? If I opt to settle down, will I find a place here or in Colorado?

Still, despite the difficulty of sorting through my stuff (and despite detours to look up unfamilar etymologies), I am making progress. I figure several months after the house is sold and the new people have moved in, I’ll be ready to leave here. I wonder if the new people will mind that their guest room comes with a ready-made guest. I’m thinking yes, they’d mind, so I’d better get back to my sorting and storing and stewing over my future.

The way I figure it, though, however things turn out, I’ll be okay. It’s the uncertainly of getting to where things have turned out that gives me something to try not to stew over.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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