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In the twelve years that Philip and I have been married, there are only two New Years Eves we’ve spent at home. Once, early on, we had my parents over for a formal dinner. We toasted with champagne cocktails and set off a few decorous little fireworks, and Daddy chased Philip around the backyard with a flaming Roman candle, laughing all the way. The other saw me in bed with a cold, asleep well before the stroke of midnight. Every other year we have been in company of lifelong friends, gathered about a familiar hearth for an evening as comfortable as it is refined.
But this year I was too sick to go out. The kind of sick that called for soda crackers and painkillers. Philip picked up takeout that I couldn’t eat and a bottle of champagne at the grocery store, just in case. We played backgammon by the fire and listened to a stack of Christmas records and reminisced rather drowsily over the highlights of 2011. I kept threatening to go to bed and Philip kept nudging me to stick it out. Nearing midnight he disappeared into the kitchen and came back with toasting glasses: Coke for him and ginger ale for me. The perfect accompaniment to my saltines.
In many ways, such a quiet, reflective evening seemed to me an appropriate way for this year to go out. It was a wonderful year, rich and heavy with blessings, and we had many treasures to turn over in our talk by the fire that night. But 2011 also saw the continued deferment of a hope long-cherished, one which the very marrow of my soul was worn out with waiting for. January after January I have seen the new year as a fresh chance, a clean slate upon which the Lord just might create the desire of our hearts—a miracle, no less, but one which His lovely character has given me courage to keep looking for. But this New Year’s I just couldn’t seem to find my hope. It was exhausted: buried away like a tired bird in its hidden nest, head tucked under its wing and a veritable thicket of impossibility screening it from view.
I had been asking the Lord all that afternoon to show me what faith looked like in this place I am in, what shape hope might take as a symbol for her beleaguered campaign. I so wanted to end the year on a positive note; to know the radiance and splendor in the darkness, even if I couldn’t see it. I didn’t want this Christmas season to go out—and thereby be defined—by sadness and disappointed hopes, but by joy, and by a confident expectation in His ultimate goodness. I wanted the statement of faith I had endeavored to make with this holiday, the deep confession it had been of His perfect love and faithfulness, to shine out strong, not in spite of disappointment and deferred hopes, but in the face of them.
But I was so tired.
“If I can’t run to You,” I told the Lord, “then at least I can lift my head and hold out my arms.”
So midnight came, and not a moment too soon for my taste. We listened to the clock in the hall roll out the long chimes and clinked our soft drinks and laughed about how tame it all was. And then I said I was going to bed in earnest. I hoisted myself up and took a last glance at the Christmas tree, all stars and magic in the gloom.
And it was then that the fireworks began.
It has been so long since we have been home on New Year’s, we had no idea what a spectacle our neighbors had cooked up in the interim. I dropped back down beside Philip on the sofa and we sat there listening for a while, expecting it to end any moment. But the bangs and reverberations only escalated.
Philip suddenly sat up.
“Those are big—I’ll bet we could see them!”
So we jumped up and hastened outside into the cold, and there, across the road and all along the winking line of neighboring house lights, we saw the blooming explosions of color and light flaming out above the trees. Red and green, blue and gold: all profusions of falling stars with joyous booms to accompany. It was glorious, and completely unexpected: fireworks that had undoubtedly crossed the state line from vacations and holidays, flung recklessly out into the night for weary, unknown souls to feast upon. I could hardly conceive of such benevolence. Joy simply blazed up in both of us—it was as if we had never been tired; I had never been sick or sad. Philip ran to gather all the fireworks we had and I ran in the house and came back out on the front porch (in my coat this time) with the bottle of champagne and two glasses.
“I don’t care if this makes me sick,” I laughed as Philip poured mine and the bubbles foamed up and ran down over the sides of the flute.
It didn’t. I sat and watched the show over the trees and the beautiful little spectacle that my husband was staging for me there on our own front walk, sipping my champagne and looking up at the real stars overhead in the clear, cold sky. Our fireworks were not as impressive as our neighbors’, but they were exquisite to me. They were radiance in the darkness and a splendor in my own heart. Glory flaring out with a sudden beauty that made us laugh, and also made me want to cry a little bit.
A bird woke in our holly hedge and protested all the noise. I shushed her back to sleep with a smile.
Joy and sorrow—twin eggs of the same nest. They make their home together and sorrow will always wound and ply her merciful steel upon the human heart. But it’s the joy that breaks it.
It wasn’t the New Year’s we had planned or expected—even a few moments before. But there we were, sitting out in the cold on our own front steps in coats and pajamas, drinking cheap champagne and watching a New Year bloom in a sudden exultation of falling stars and kindling hopes. And although this January was scarcely half an hour old, my mind was filled with the words of The Innocence Mission song July:
the man I love and I will lift our heads together…
the world at night has seen the greatest light: too much light to deny…
Lanier Ivester is a “Southern Lady” in the best and most classical sense and a gifted writer in the most articulate and literal sense. She hand-binds books and lives on a farm with peacocks, bees, sheep, and the governor of Ohio’s leg. She loves old books and sells them from her website, LaniersBooks.com, and she’s currently putting the final touches on her first novel, as well as studying literature at Oxford.