A Midnight Clear

“Life’s cruelty joins the world’s beauty and our sense of God’s presence to demonstrate who we’re dealing with, if dealing we are: God immanent and transcendent. God discernible but unknowable. God beside us and wholly alien. How this proves his mercy I don’t understand.”

-Annie Dillard


It’s been nearly a year now.

At this time last December, my cousin was sitting in a living room twenty miles from mine, his gift wrapped in reindeer wrapping paper, me fully expecting to stand shoulder to shoulder with him for Mom’s photos, sit beside him eating honey ham and potatoes at the same house on East Silent Lake we’d spent all the holidays before. I was expecting to spend a few days sitting around the fireplace in my uncle’s living room, playing spoons or reading Mansfield Park, but I haven’t stepped foot in that house for over a year because it was in that room that they found him without a pulse and a gun still hooked in his hand.

In the dark lobby of the Northwestern media building last week, my friend nudged my boots dangling over the arm of a chair and asked how I was feeling about going home for the holidays, and I just thought about staring into my dorm closet full of clothes, trying to think of what to pack. I made the seams and zippers of my duffle bags bulge from clothes I doubt I’ll need, all because last year I found myself dressing for a funeral and didn’t have anything to black to wear. When I think of how ignorant I was, and am, of everything to come, I hate that I’m still scared of what’s waiting for me at home. I’ve never known a way to prepare for grieving, and I don’t know how to prepare for whatever I’ll be needing now.

I’ve spent the past few months trying to write about the light and darkness, mostly because I’m learning to balance, wrestle, and dwell in it all at once. I crave Sunday morning behind the St. Paul stained glass, with its advent candles and poetry, the very word of advent, because I need a word that’s able to hold the longing and waiting for a coming dawn. I read Isaiah 9:2 over and over, uttering how “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

It is days before Christmas. The light of hope is here, and yet the world still seeps in its suffering. These are days when my mother’s friend is killed in a crash, just miles from my school, from a man driving the wrong way down the freeway. The days when my grandmother is failing to sleep while cancer ravages her body, wondering whether she’ll be here to see me wear her diamond earrings down the aisle next August. A time when my uncle, for the first time in twenty years, won’t be wrapping presents for his son. The days of longing have not passed, and the aches of the weary earth still echo in our heavy breaths.

And I guess in the end, the shadows of light come just as they always have: in a star above a land and people of obscurity, around the fragile wicks of candles in the weeks of December, in the day break coming ever so slowly over the lip of the horizon—the light appearing dimly, and then all at once. It is not the mercy and hope in the world that makes me sure of a God. It is mercy and hope despite the anguish. And so I’ll keep praying under a vaulted sky of pale stars, and it is there I’ll be waiting for the morning.