Jeanne Koré Salvato

ou may be wondering why I am bringing up the holidays already.  Have we gone the way of Halloween in the States?  Even though it takes place on 31 October, the mere specter of Halloween on the horizon causes decorations to be brought out after the Fourth of July. Seriously?

Well, I am glad you asked.  It turns out that Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, begins on the 7th of December this year and continues to the 15th.  So, we are more timely than you might have imagined. Eight candles are lit on successive nights to commemorate the recovery of Jerusalem and the re-dedication of the Second Temple.  In these dark times in Israel and Gaza, a concentration on light can be a powerful thing.

Hanukkah Candle

Next, the winter solstice takes place on Thursday, December 21 at 10:27 p.m., representing the beginning of winter.  Solstice means “the sun has stopped.” And therein lies a story. But first two other December holidays also await, Kwanzaa, an African harvest festival, from Tuesday, December 26, to New Year’s Day.  And Christmas day, preceded by the preparation time of advent, to celebrate the birth of Christ. Lots of community and lots of celebrations among many traditions.

When I first lived in France, we lived in Suresnes, across the street from a well-known religious leader, Pir Vilayat, who had offered many seminars in Paris and around the world, on the unity of religious ideals.  Now it so happened that the solstice occurred on the night a small group of people gathered in the house where he lived, down in the half basement with lovely French windows, for a meditation. I suggested my then husband a former astronomer, give a brief talk on the solstice at this gathering.

Date is wrong here, but enjoy a little science

You may know that what marks the solstice is it takes place on the day when the sun is tilted as far from the earth as it will be. We know this has happened when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. My husband appeared with a globe and a flashlight ready to illustrate this.  Not, however, before two things happened.  First, he invited Pir Vilayat to attend the meditation, just as a participant in this joyful evening. (Ha, ha, I add in retrospect.) And second, Pir Vilayat’s secretary frantically called everyone in Paris so that the meditation would be well attended, given that Pir Vilayat would be present.

A nice crowd gathered for the meditation, seated mostly on chairs with flowers and candles in the middle.

I had contacted a babysitter to meet us there at the site of the meditation, to take care of our daughter.  That way I could go over early and help set up. Somehow it got later and later. No babysitter. When she finally arrived, she said there’d been an altercation on the bus.  The driver had to throw the guilty party off.  How often does this happen?  Like never.  So, I ran back over across the street to our house with the babysitter and child in tow, and what to our wondering eyes should appear, but a firmly locked door. We never locked the door, but locked it was. Back across the street the three of us went and got the keys from Mr. Solstice Presenter. Back again the three of us went, across the street to our house, where I unlocked the door and stashed the babysitter and the child inside. I went yet again across the street, like a peripatetic street crosser, as if this were a new thing, a new sport, called cross-streeting.

Meanwhile, somebody had invited the elderly brother of Pir Vilayat to join in the solstice presentation, along with his elderly cousin.  So, we were all settled in, the meditation going splendidly.  The person leading it was inspired and talked about light. I only remember one thing, given all the running around I’d been doing.  It was also in the period I call “the before stage “of my French, which means before I could really understand and speak.  Now even in this before French, I understood that the heavy metals in our bodies derived from the stars.

ASIDE:  Here’s what the Natural History Museum just confirmed for me: “Any element in your body that is heavier than iron has travelled through at least one supernova. So it’s very likely that there are a whole bunch of different stars that have contributed the elements we see in our own solar system, our planet and those found within you.”

READER:  I would have kind of liked the star light to make it down to the body, but I guess I’ll take the metals that made it through the supernova.  May I ask, “What is a supernova?”

ME:  Here’s from Nasa. “One type of supernova is caused by the ‘last hurrah’ of a dying massive star. This happens when a star at least five times the mass of our sun goes out with a fantastic bang!”

Remnant of a supernova

I thanked the meditation leader, and then, wouldn’t you know, Pir Vilayat’s assistant pulled me aside.  He gave me a real talking to.  First off, he said, “You should have interrupted the meditation.  It went on too long.”  I looked at him, puzzled. When has anyone interrupted the weekly meditation class?  Like, never.  It had lasted an hour like it always did.  “Why would I interrupt it?”  “Well,” the secretary explained, “one of the elderly gentlemen had to go to the bathroom.” To which I replied, “There is a bathroom on the premises.” Apparently, he was too embarrassed to use the facilities.  I said, “It was a lovely meditation. Are we agreed?” The three elderly gentlemen couldn’t hear it, was the answer.   Mon Dieu. Undeterred, the assistant maintained I did not organize this event well. Then he tried to console me. He knew I was trying to do something worthwhile.  “I did,” I smiled.  “Do something worthwhile.”

You had to be on your toes living over there.  It didn’t occur to the assistant, for example, that he might have looked at the whole experience differently, sympathized with their complaints, and left me out of it entirely!  But he didn’t do that. In short, he was on the wrong side of history. 

The next day, I happened to cross paths with Pir Vilayat.  “The event last night was a good idea,” he said.  “But never again.”  I smiled.  You know what I was thinking. “You, dear Pir Vilayat,  won’t be invited the next time.  Neither would the then-husband be invited, not the elderly brother nor the cousin, not to mention the assistant.  

So reader, I hope that in addition to the amusing anecdote, you do have a take-away from this story, not only from your ring-side seat, watching how things can snowball.  The point of the solstice was the attention to light.  And while December can be a month with long nights, it can also be filled with light.  What is that saying, light a candle, rather than curse the darkness? And darkness can cover a lot of territory. On Thursday, 21 December, I plan to light lots of candles, and keep to myself to enjoy that moment when we experience the longest night.

I was thinking about missed opportunities, such as if I’d waited too long to tell you about the holidays.  Do you remember the ending of the movie Dr Zhivago? The doctor is on the streetcar and sees his long-lost love, Laura.  He hurries off, only to have a heart attack before he can catch up with her.  What if that happened to Godot?  Perhaps he had a heart attack before he could arrive and speak with our un-homed pair?  Well, let’s save Godot’s life, because it is Christmas, after all. Godot recovers from his heart attack, but can he find the vagrants?  It’s high time for a writer to liberate Godot from Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot.” I’d love to imagine his backstory. Any ideas?

We at writing4godot offer you our brightest and best wishes for this holiday season. It’s a time of comaraderie and community, a time for inner reflection as we turn towards winter, and a time of celebration of the light within and without.  See you in the new year!

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