There is about a half hour when I think this might really be it, maybe the world is ending. In the rays of that cruel, dwindling light, Armageddon does not look like I imagined. There are no crusting zombies or nuclear clouds. Just one quiet, yet definitive, coup by a troop of heartless dust bunnies.
Those dust bunnies are always there, at least I guess they are. I only see them when the sun falls even with our living room window. Then the light takes no prisoners. It shines on every shortcut I’ve taken, shows places I could have done a more thorough job of keeping life together. The view makes me wonder if I will ever be a grown up enough grown-up. The kind who smiles serenely when someone asks if she has everything under control. Who answers, “Oh yes, of course,” without knowing there are real (and figurative) dust bunnies all across her life, waiting for the right moment to raise those stringy, gray heads and strike.
But then the sun sets and the dust bunnies disappear and life marches on. And as I bet you’ve heard from some well-meaning advice-givers who want you to keep your chin up, there is always good to balance out the bad. Yin for yang. Diet Coke for bacon cheeseburgers. And while ’tis the season of commercialism and going bankrupt on toys that may not be in one piece by Valentine’s Day and whatever else chaps your hide about the holidays, the good news is that it is also the season of holiday lights. Yes, holiday lights. Colored lights. White lights. Blinkers, chasers. Round bulbs like smooth snowballs. Tiny triangle bulbs for those who like it traditional. Red tamales for those who like it hot, hot, hot. That one strand buried in the back corner of the attic that somehow still works and saves you from another trip to the store. Hallelujah for holiday lights.
At my house, come December, the holiday lights go on a Christmas tree that sits in the southwest corner of our living room. They accompany ornaments that range from sentimental pictures of our children (screaming on Santa’s lap) to vacation memorabilia (“Gone Fishin’ in New Mexico”) and one bright pink donut with sprinkles (my younger son tried to take a bite of it last year).
I wish I could tell you the lights have magical powers, but they do not erase what’s messy. The dust bunnies remain. And the sun — even though it’s muted in winter — still knows how to find them.
But every holiday season there are at least a few nights when I come home late, and out here in the country, past the reach of city lights, the whole world is dark. Yet there is a glow from my house, welcoming me home. So I choose to walk toward this light in my living room, and even though there are bags to put away, presents to wrap, a husband to greet, work to finish and children to check on — instead of all that, I drop the load and sit while the lights shimmer. They shine way past what might get me down in the everyday, showing me everything that’s good.
That glow is enough to turn the tired, the sorta bedraggled, the not quite grown up enough grown-ups and even the otherwise sarcastic and cynical into people who want to keep their chins up. At least until Valentine’s Day.
Anna Mitchael is the author of “Copygirl” and “Rattlesnake Stories.” You can read more of her work at annamitchael.com.