Sacred Lights

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I heard an interesting and disturbing letter a couple of weeks ago while listening to CBC Radio. The writer had written in to complain about public schools not having “traditional Christmas” concerts any more. This person went on to contend that it was “sad to see our heritage disappearing and that it’s a horrible day when Christmas isn’t the focus of a school’s winter concert.”

The tone and ignorance of the letter reminded me of my years as a music teacher in Chicago, just a few short years ago. I can vividly remember one grandmother who had come to see her grandchild perform in our Holiday Program. We had decided to call it something like “Songs of Light” and had placed bright coloured posters along with greenery and ribbons through the halls of the school. The grandmother began to complain before the program had even started. It was the same refrain I heard on the radio, the old “Christ is the reason for the season, children aren’t taught right these days, why when I was a girl…” Now, I’m all for respecting my elders, but on this occasion I felt like this woman had something to learn from her grandchild. I personally escorted her to a seat in the front of the auditorium and told her that I hoped she enjoyed the show.

This grandmother, along with the rest of the audience was treated to music and stories from around the world. In the course of an hour they watched the children tell the tales of their own families’ traditions of light, one child telling an ancient folk tale about the longest night of the year, another telling the story of the miracle of Chanukah, another lighting the candles of Kwanzaa and another explaining how the Christmas treeis filled with the symbolism of both nature and of Christ.

I’d love to say that the grandmother ran up to me afterward, hugging me and exclaiming that she was changed by the event, but the truth is I never saw her again. What I did see when it was over was my small little music room in the drafty upstairs of an old building in Chicago filled with laughing, singing children, spinning dreidels, munching on Christmas cookies or sweet corn bread, crinkling the gold wrappers from Chanukah geld and having a joyful time. That is where true light resides.

In some countries it was once traditional for menorahs to be placed on the outside of a home, near the door. I have seen some of them displayed in the Jewish Museum in NYC. They are beautiful little altars of light and I like to imagine how they might have looked, sparkling in the dark night, sharing light with those passing by. Because of the fear of persecution the menorahs were brought inside, first being placed in windows and then being hidden away to secret and protected places inside the home.

Around the same time as I heard the letter of complaint on the CBC, I was sent a forwarded email detailing an account of an interview with Billy Graham’s daughter. Evidently she was asked why God would allow the events of 9/11 to happen. The email stated that she said that we, as a people had turned our backs to God (by not teaching Christianity in schools and so on) and that He, God, was now simply doing the same to us, turning away from the world since the world doesn’t care for Him. Again, I was saddened with the narrowness of this kind of thinking! There is more to this world than Christianity. The lack of said Christianity is not the reason for all ills, (it is just a bigoted, convenient excuse). I would argue that the misinterpretation of Christianity, and the holding of the mere name of that religion (or any other single religion) over another person’s beliefs is what brings about fear, intolerance and strife. It is such thinking that forces those who are not Christian to bring their “lights”, (their spirit of being) inside and hide them from the rest of the world.

Tonight is the longest night of the year and with so much fear, disease, poverty and war in the world it is doubly dark. It is my hope that we might all light not just a candle to that which created us, but that we might light the fire within and bring it into the open. Don’t let ignorance continue to feed on itself. We are all a part of each other. Put your light on the outside, bring a torch, run.

Learning to Write

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It’s Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. and I’m glad to be in Canada…where I can still watch the Macy’s Day Parade via satellite and not have to worry about cooking an enormous turkey or wonder why the Governor of Florida allows the Miami police to hunt down innocent protestors (and people walking down the street minding their own business) with rubber pellet guns.

Common Dreams Headlines

Well, I suppose I’d still wonder about good old Jeb no matter where I lived. If you are wondering too, why don’t you write him a letter and let him know what you’re thinking.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of letter writing as of late. I joined PEN Canada’s Rapid Action Network. Each week I have the opportunity to add my name to an appeal to help writers who are unjustly imprisoned for expressing their beliefs. You can add your voice to the network and you don’t even have to be a member of PEN.

Pen Canada

And speaking of prisons….

One more thought for the day.

Hats off to Daniel Richler, host of Richler Ink, who put together a nice little montage of young students reading excerpts of John Taylor Gatto’s article, “against school” (as featured in Harpers Sept 2003 issue).

My son is a happy, healthy, creative, thinking-for-himself unschooler. Thank God we pulled him out, or he’d still be telling me , “No Mom, I can’t write the word ‘cat’ in cursive letters… Teacher says we’ll learn “T ” in a couple of weeks. We’re not to try it until then.”

Watch out for those “t”s, evidently they have the power to warp young minds if taken on too soon.

John Taylor Gatto

Come, Join the Conversation…

The Kitchen Table Forum


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I can see why the Celts chose this as the time of year for new beginnings. The night comes on so quickly now…cold enough to turn thoughts inward, leaving them unexpected and sometimes dark. Things I have been dreaming of, wanting, are coming to the surface, leaving me a bit frightened as well as excited. It’s good to have those feelings. I am learning to run towards them rather than turning away.

The Northern Lights have shocked the sky over my house the past couple of nights. The first night, we lost power just as they started. A balmy south wind ushered them in and I sat in a lawn chair, my two-year-old nestled in my arms, our faces turned with awe to the heavens above. The second night was more spectacular than the first, long, stretching fingers of red and pink undulating between the stars, reaching above our heads, telling me to never abandon this place I call home.

I recently finished reading “Making a Literary Life” by Carolyn See. A wonderful book that reaffirmed my passion for writing ‘charming notes’ and sending them out into the world. They really do work. Just the week before, I had sent a letter to Pamela Wallin, Consul General to New York City, thanking her for her courage in sharing her battle with colorectal cancer with the rest of the world. Thursday morning the phone rang and Ms. Wallin was on the other end of the line, calling to say that my words, my charming little note, had ‘made her day, her week, her year.’ And if you were wondering…yes, she is kind and gracious and wonderful sounding over the phone!

We ended the conversation by agreeing that people need to do this sort of thing more often. Take a chance and let someone know you appreciate who they are.

What we do, what we say, our WORDS do indeed make a difference.