It was with gratitude that I ventured out on Christmas Eve morning. Gratitude, of course, for the season and its significance, but also gratitude that the cold had not frozen the pipes at Sandhill, gratitude for the father who had dripped those pipes for me, and gratitude that all the gifts had been purchased, wrapped, and, for the most part, already delivered.
Swaddled against the cold in layers of clothes, my head lowered against the wind, I walked into the chapel for what my pastor was calling “Quiet Christmas.” The stone floors, the candles flickering in the crevices of the wall behind the altar, the whispers of the others as they entered transported me to a space where the loudest noise was the beating of my own heart.
I cried through the entire service – the litany of remembrance and the lighting of the Advent wreath, the Psalter and the reading of the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke, the giving and taking of Holy Communion. I left as the words of the Confession crowded out all other thoughts: “We have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray.”
Unsettled and just the least bit melancholy, I couldn’t bring myself to go straight home to the warmth of a fire and the twinkling of the lights on the Christmas tree and saccharine-sweet holiday music hailing from a satellite 23,000 miles away. So, I decided to drive through downtown where my memories of childhood Christmases fall against a backdrop of full sidewalks, the tinkling of bells as the doors of shops opened and closed, the tinsel-heavy decorations atop the streetlights, and mannequins in store windows sporting red and green clothes and awkward tilts of their plastic hands.
I knew I would not find crowds and traffic, a huge tree on the courthouse square, or drivers jockeying for parking spaces, but I hoped I would find something.
Approaching the railroad tracks, the weird intersection of East Main Street and Savannah Avenue, I began slowing. Glancing to the right I noticed that the fountain at Triangle Park was frozen. The cold had turned the dancing water into sculpture, the gurgles and splashes into silence.
I parked the car, crossed the street, and pulled out my phone to take a picture, and just as I got to the fountain I realized it wasn’t completely frozen. The opposite side, the side toward the sun, had already begun thawing, the water in the reservoir quivering in the breeze. One, maybe two or three, drops of water hung precariously from the lower tier, as if they weren’t certain of their identity – still ice or, suddenly and once again, water?
I took a couple of photos, crossed back over the street, and headed for home.
I kept thinking about the fountain. And at some point I realized that the fountain had been my star, that it had led me to the something for which I had been looking, searching, seeking like a Wise Woman – the truth that frozen water, frozen hearts can thaw. The truth that the very nature of water, of hearts is that they do not remain in the same state forever.
Christmas is, of course, followed almost too closely by the new year. Whatever it is about human nature that leads us to see the turning of the calendar as a prompt to start over, begin again, believe again, we all, in one way or another, see January 1 as opportunity. This year, I am seeing it as an invitation to thaw.