Ray of hope in the bleak midwinter
The facade of our house, lit up by the necklace of lights which I risked life and limb to erect (ok - I got a rose thorn in the thumb), is like any other festively-decorated home merely a frontage for the realities of family life which have their ups and downs. But that, in a way, is the purpose of decoration - to draw us for a moment out of the everyday into a few seconds of wonder. I grant that my single set of cheap lights is not going to challenge that of a New York department store but it gives us pleasure.
It's difficult not to think of the world as bleak and unforgiving in the current climate. And for those who are left facing the penuries of the government's Universal Credit scheme, or are waiting in a Home Office black hole for citizenship or to fight deportation, it is material change that is required not empty rhetoric. Yet words matter. To give voice to the homeless, to the Windrush generation, to those who the Stansted 15 tried to free, is to give hope - even if succour is a long time coming.
Recently, I have been listening to the marvellous podcast, The Compass, on the BBC World Service. I have particularly enjoyed writer Dava Sobel's reflections (appropriately enough) on the Sun - and its profound effect on every aspect of our lives. For me, at a time of year when I have been contemplating the sunset of my mother's life, blazing ingloriously in her confusion to its end, the light of Sobel's words travelling across the dark hours as I try to sleep has been life-giving. At such a time, I treasure the solace of another's voice speaking of wonders which we are only just beginning to understand.
I think I mentioned in an earlier podcast how reading my poem about a hare to my mother gave her a moment of solitary delight in her suffering. I knew the poem could not turn back the tide of confusion, but it was at least a small island in the storm. If the Christmas lights mean anything at all, then they represent for those of us who are lucky enough to have a roof over our heads, a temporary beauty - however garish or cool we judge them to be; a moment to cherish what we have.
It's difficult not to be trite about Christmas. Equally we cannot avoid the particular meaning in the symbolism of the season - the closing of the year, the giving and receiving of gifts, the long nights and short days. If we do nothing else in this time of division, we should at least consider how the words we use, scribbled in a card, emailed to our MP, keyed into a smartphone to our friends (or enemies) can both heal or hurt.