NEW YORK – When I look up at the December sky, I am reminded of Chinese paintings in their finest silks. I see brushstrokes, dipped in pigments, etching the skies in bluish-grey branches and misty clouds like cotton balls, soft upon tree-tops with the country-side, thread-bare and hidden in a silent dream.
The winter light – pale, weak and low-angled illumination – skittles through the landscape like an inside song. With not a leaf on the tree, the light surges in waves of gentle promise that although shadows of darkness may fall quicker and for more prolonged hours, the brief hours of lighting is graciously poised in magic. The Yule-tide magic.
According to ancient Chinese scholars, what the Chinese calligraphists did not want to utter in words, they sketched them out in light ink. And as the year closes, it appears, as if the world over, the hallowed words of “peace and good-will to men” pour through the skies in calligraphies of incandescent light.
The blooms of summer have faded away. Instead what swirls into vision are tiny birds, scouring for seeds among fallen leaves and the herds of deer, staggering in the forests for a nibble of the wood and greens. And, sometimes, if you are lucky, the red fox stands right on the roadway, turning to stare at you in your car, and then sprinting off in a trot – making you believe you were in a fairy-tale were it not for the sordid stories of President Trump and his band of men.
This bombast around whether or not the Christmas greeting is appropriate seems rather misplaced to me. Christmas is about littleness, about hiding in poverty and humility, about the sorrow of the outcast, the leper and the sick, not about kingship and heavy-booted authority.
No number of “Merry Christmases” can bury the white collar violence of taxing the poor, depriving shelter from the desperate, drawing wedges between communities, and taking cover off from the sick.
It is hypocrisy, rank and clear.
Even as the inchoate tax bill passed the Senate last weekend, there was nothing but a celestial suggestion of scintillating mystery wrapped around the town when the last super-moon of 2017 hung low over the western skies and its tender, rosy gleam, dabbled the twinkling holiday lights on roof tops with an indulgent glow.
The moon, the strung lights and the little animals seemed to smile, secretly aware of the whispers of an epiphany, unknown to me.
In 2015, a John Lewis Christmas ad had an old man on the moon looking out to sparkling blue earth, through a telescope, where trees, bells and houses seemed to glisten and shimmer bright in comparison to the cold, listless and monochromatic moon. And indeed, from space our cities look like a spray of stars, with no borders, no lines, no walls, neither guns nor bombs. Life seems doused in harmony and joy.
And quite naturally, in such a fabled world such as this, the quaint Nativity Story of three Bedouin shepherds, with their flock of sheep, wading through the deserts, looking across the spans of the velvet skies for a bright star to illumine their way home is a believable anecdote recurring in the hearts of every human being, every single year.
In Martin Scorsese’s film, Silence, faith is perceived as a riddle shrouded in mystery as the protagonist struggles through a journey of absolute arrogance to sacrifice of pride toward spiritual truth, as old certainties fade away and are rebuilt on unfamiliar grounds. He seems to suggest that a life of faith is not real unless it is also raked in with despair.
It is as elegant and beautiful as that hymn: Lead kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom….keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene – one step enough for me.
For no matter how rough the year has been, when December comes, our thoughts turn inadvertently to love, renewal and hope.
So, beyond the disappointing news of the day, there lie the angelic furls of wonder, outside and within our lives.
In the hazy light of dawn, dancing and swaying from tree-tops, our hearts slowly awaken for an apparition of a miracle, amidst the parched and slumbering earth.
I remember one Christmas morning, waking up to the sight of the dogwood tree in front of our house, crowded with dozens of turtle doves, cooing in the cold, puffing up their feathers, lightly coated with snow.
Painting and poetry were subtly fused in the movement of the birds, the snow and the misty trees. And the hush quiet of the aesthetic inevitably opened to the doors of the sublime.
The gift of the birds, the snow and the tree dressed in elegant simplicity was a sight I promised would never fade away even when the harsh north winds blew in the old melancholy.
But years flow like water and everything passes by in a whim before our eyes. The world catches and harnesses us; only the light, elusive and playful, like dandelions in the wind beckons us to look to the skies and believe.
And the words of the blind Argentinian poet, Jorge Luis Borges, endure through the season: The unforgiving earth is my affliction…nevertheless, it means much to have loved, to have been happy, to have laid my hand on the living Garden, even for one day.
It is similar to the fragrant faith of a Chinese poet, who would leave the bamboo reeds, untrimmed by his beloved’s window, because “when the grass and flowers are all gone, it will be beautiful under the falling snow-flakes.”
(Poppy Mookerjee is a journalist and a writer for more than a decade with American and Indian publications)