The house in which I live was built in 1902 on Seattle’s “First Hill.” I have a photograph of the house in its early days, which reveals that my residence was one of many in what was then an essentially residential neighborhood.
In 2017, however, First Hill bears little resemblance to its origins, and I am surrounded on three sides by high-rise apartment buildings and on the fourth by a hospital emergency room. Having lived in busy urban and inner-city neighborhoods before, I am not bothered in the least by the noise of traffic and sirens. What does bother me is the fact that those high-rise buildings block sunlight from streaming through my windows.
Every once in a while, however, on sunny days at certain times of year, at certain times of day, through certain windows, a bright ray of sunlight floods into my home. At such moments, I’m fascinated to see which object is illuminated with laser-like focus by the sun. At the time of this writing, as dawn comes early on Seattle’s First Hill, a ray of light finds its way through a small stained glass window on the east side of my chapel and shines brightly on an icon of St. Joseph. Each time it does, it’s as if Joseph is reminding me that he’s watching over me, one father taking care of another.
At a different time of year, light enters through a window on the north side of the house into the pantry! That ray illuminates a simple wooden cross given me by members of the Cursillo movement when I first arrived in Seattle. As winter approaches, the afternoon sun reaches through a window on the west side of the house and catches the fireplace in the entryway.
If I happen to have my iPhone with me at such times, I take a picture to record what the sun chose on that day, at a certain time of year, in the blink of an eye. My photos are amateurish, to say the least, but they capture how the sun played with stained glass, or Venetian blinds, or half-opened curtains, to reach its destination.
One afternoon two years ago during the Christmas season, slowly beaming past my fireplace, a bright winter sun focused ever-so-briefly on a small stuffed snowman that sings “Jingle Bells” with his howling dog. Luckily, the iPhone was with me, and I snapped a picture. I had good reason to capture the moment, because it rekindled memories of a wonderful school secretary who gave me the snowman 20 years earlier.
As all school secretaries, Betty was every child’s mother-at-school, every mother’s counselor-at-school, and every teacher’s confidante-at-school. After I discovered Betty’s great sense of humor, I kidded her relentlessly. One year, having forgotten her birthday, I rushed to the drugstore late one night and found a small stuffed cow that sang a certain tune. I stole into her office and propped the cow on her desk laden with apologies that I had forgotten her birthday. Thus my forgetfulness initiated a yearly custom of gift-giving on her or my birthday. The last Christmas gift Betty gave me was the snowman-dog duo.
Betty died of cancer two years after I moved, and I was able to return for her funeral. A packed church celebrated her faith, her kindness, her special skills and her humor. The snowman and dog have accompanied me to three dioceses, and the afternoon the sun found them at the foot of my fireplace, I was reminded all over again what a blessing Betty had been to us — a genuine ray of light herself. I framed my simple photo and sent it to her mom as a Christmas gift.
Wherever we live, in season and out of season, on days sunny and gloomy, we are surrounded by the Light of the World shining through loving people from every walk of life. They are Christ’s light at work, and they inspire us to be the same. Poet Rita Simmonds phrases it beautifully in a Christmas poem titled “Admittance.”
The crèche is come
to our lawns
the Christmas corner in our lives.
God has found shelter
amid hectic, inhospitable terrain
and pleads for warmth and welcome
to jolt the darkness of the cave.
Yet there are so many concealed coves
where the lamb receives the wolf
the cow lows with the bear
the lion nibbles hay
the cub and calf roll and yap
the children poke and play.
If we could only admit a crack of light
Our eyes would see a different day.
It need not be Christmas for each of us to be a crack of light in the lives of others. A small gesture of kindness, a word of encouragement, an attempt at reconciliation or a note of condolences can brighten another’s spirit. Moreover, “If we could only admit a crack of light,” we would see Christ himself shining lovingly on us through others (even as a singing snowman and a howling dog!). “If we could only admit a crack of light,” we would soon discover that “dark days” are not really dark at all.
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - September 2017