In high December, you don’t usually have to look far to find someone who isn’t looking forward to Christmastide — someone whose solitude will serve as a special reminder of family or friends lost or estranged, or hopes of husbands or wives or children never realized. Someone who knows what Charlie Brown meant when he said, “I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?”
In light of that reality, let me bend your ear for a few moments.
If your outward circumstances are happier — if it’s been a good year, and you’re looking at a busy Christmas in a packed, bustling house — give thanks. Not like the idolaters who say “God, I thank you that I am not like . . .”; nor like the hypocrites whose “thank yous” issue through plastic smiles that mask restlessness or bitterness; but like the sincerely grateful people who can give thanks free of comparisons and glances down the nose. And look around. Sometimes a kind letter, simple visit, or dinner invitation goes a long way.
If you find yourself alone, or more alone than you would like, this Christmastide, some cold comfort in the form of a parable by Søren Kierkegaard:
When the prosperous man on a dark but star-lit night drives comfortably in his carriage and has the lanterns lighted, aye, then he is safe, he fears no difficulty, he carries his light with him, and it is not dark close around him; but precisely because he has the lanterns lighted, and has a strong light close to him, precisely for this reason he cannot see the stars, for his lights obscure the stars, which the poor peasant driving without lights can see gloriously in the dark but starry night.
It is, generally, in the dark and the cold and the quietness, away from the distracting creature-comforts, that the Desire of Nations touches our deepest desire with a needle. When the ambient light fades to black the stars speak, in the cool faithfulness of their silvery tongue, of the stronger golden Light to which they finally will give way.
David Mitchel is a small-town lawyer who has represented clients in a broad spectrum of causes, ranging from business transactions to property disputes to the defense of criminal charges to federal habeas corpus and Civil Rights actions. His passion for literature and story, which he caught first from Tolkien, informs all of this work—which requires patient, careful adjudication of competing stories and creativity to help clients and courts write the rest of the story justly and wisely. David was born and raised near Baltimore, Maryland, went to law school at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and now lives in central Virginia. When he’s not practicing his profession, David is usually on stage, or playing a stringed instrument, or reading, or writing.