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Faith in Vermont: On Writing, the Darkest Day, and the New Year

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Posted on December 30, 2014 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



Last week, my oldest daughter found a copy of our Christmas letter – the breezy family update that I’d slapped together to send out with our Christmas cards. She sat down at the kitchen table to read it, without my knowledge. (It’s still new and surprising that there are members of our family who can read besides my husband and me, and I’ve yet to take the necessary precautions.)

I found her there, sitting at the table, laughing and laughing. This girl is not a big laugher; at seven years old she’s become shy and serious, with a tendency to ask questions that hint at the beginnings of existential angst (“Mommy, do you ever feel lonely?”) She’d never before read anything I’ve written. But there she was, laughing out loud over something I’d written about our family.

In that moment, I remembered why I write. I also thought, If I never write another word, it’s okay; this is enough.

***

Recently, we passed through the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year. Here in Vermont, this means that we have about five minutes of grey daylight around lunchtime, and then it’s dark again.

The strange thing about the winter solstice is that, although it officially ushers in winter, it also marks the moment when we turn the corner towards spring. From December 22 on, the days become gradually, progressively longer. So, even though there’s snow on the ground and the temperatures hover around freezing, there’s a glimmer of hope that winter’s already starting to lose its toehold, even as it’s just beginning.

I was trying to explain this to my daughters, but instead of hope, they started to panic.

“You mean winter’s over?” wailed one of the girls. “But we haven’t had enough snow yet!”

We got about 12 inches of snow before Thanksgiving, and another 16 inches two weeks ago. This is what happens to children in Vermont.

***

As the New Year approaches, I’ve been trying to reflect back over this year. It would be nice to tease out some sort of coherent narrative from the past 365 days, but I can’t manage it. I’m no good at remembering; this year, like most others in which I experienced no major life event (birth, death, marriage), is a bit of a fog.

My husband doesn’t have this problem. He recalls minutiae. When we go out to dinner to celebrate a birthday or anniversary, one of his favorite conversational gambits is to try and remember what we did for that birthday or anniversary last year…and the year before…and the year before that. And, he’s off! His mind skips nimbly through the decades while I sit, guiltily shoving bread in my mouth.

Here are a few things I do recall from 2014: our entire family – including a set of grandparents – getting the flu at once; the night my husband summoned me outside to see two (or was it three?) huge barred owls frolicking in the trees over our woodpile; a blissful, solo morning ski from Rikert Nordic Center to the Robert Frost Cabin; celebrating a daughter’s birthday at Lake Dunmore; walking along the ocean with my husband at sunset in Maine; shooting arrows at a target with a friend at Doe Camp; a stunning autumn sunset while driving along Route 22A; noticing that our daughters are all lengthening as quickly as the narcissus bulb we forced this winter.

And, of course, my oldest daughter, reading our family letter at the kitchen table and laughing.

I remember little blips and images. Maybe this is also why I write – and why I tend to write 900 words or less.

***

There’s been a lot of terrible news this year, as always. Wars, atrocities, injustices, diseases, environmental catastrophes. And, as always, the bad news seems to be concentrated around the holidays. I’m not sure whether this is a measurable fact – that more horrible things happen in the lead-up to Christmas – or whether it only seems that way. We expect this time of year to be full of love and joy, which makes the fact that reality continues all the more jarring.

Just as jarring as national and international bad tidings over the newswires was an email I received days before Christmas: an update to the blog of a college acquaintance -- a woman my age, a mother of young children -- who’s been fighting colon cancer fiercely for the past year. Her recent updates had contained mostly good news; this one’s subject line was: “The Cancer Is In My Lungs.”

What followed made me weep, with phrases like, “no longer curable,” “several years,” and “making plans.”

In the midst of her shock and grief, my friend wrote that she needed to keep writing. She spoke of the peace and comfort that she found in the legacy of her stories.

This, I understood perfectly. For some of us, writing is a little bit like the winter solstice: a way of rounding the corner towards light, despite the current freezing dark. Sometimes it moves a serious child to laughter; sometimes it moves a lonely mother to tears. Always, I think, it moves the writer a little closer to hope. There is hope in turning our little blips and images into stories, in seeking understanding and connection through written words. It’s a small thing, but most of life is about small people doing small things.

Thank you for reading. May your days lengthen into a very happy 2015.

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone labradoodle — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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