Today is the Winter Solstice, the day with the fewest hours of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, today is dark, but it also means that tomorrow will be a little bit lighter.
by Ruth Neuwald Falcon, Seattle, Washington
When I was young, I used to tire of the stories my father told me over and over. There was the one about the whore who brought him roses. (“A whore!” he would exclaim, delight written all over his old face. “Bringing roses! To a man!”) There was the jealous woman who shot him with a tiny revolver after following him onto a train and finding him, as she had suspected, with another woman. (“Another centimeter and I would have been dead,” he’d say, also looking delighted. And he’d have me feel the small dent in the back of his skull where the bullet had nicked him.) There was the time he, mounted on a white stallion, had led a battalion into a Hungarian town and the time he had to flee Budapest because his photograph was being shown in movie theatres as “Wanted.” (This was the early twentieth century when Central and Eastern Europe swung between revolution and counter-revolution. The day before he was a wanted man, he had been a Member of Parliament.)
Most of my friends don’t have their parents any more, but one who does moans about having to hear the same stories over and over. “Every time I talk to her,” she says, “she tells me about the same thing that happened seventy years ago. It makes me want to scream.”
“You’ll miss those stories once they’re gone,” I want to say to her but don’t. It wouldn’t have served me had someone told me that back then. Because both things are true: the tedium is true and the preciousness is true. They don’t cancel each other out and they don’t live together inside us comfortably.
Today is the 37th anniversary of my father’s death. His Yahrzeit. This morning, I pulled from a shelf in my pantry one of the partially burned seven-day memorial candles leftover from the last Yom Kippur service I attended, in 2018. I would ordinarily light a 24-hour candle to mark his passing, but this is not an ordinary year. It needs all the light it can get on its way out and I decided that having a candle burning on my stove shrine for a few days would not be a bad thing.
I put a picture of Daddy on the stove, lit the candle, and went upstairs to take a shower. When I came back down, the flame had subsided to barely a flicker as the wax around the wick pooled and threatened to drown it. Oh no. I don’t want Daddy’s light to go out. What should I do?
After his early decades of adventurous escapades and living without much of a care for tomorrow’s obligations, he had his first—and only—child at the age of 52. He had to find a way to support that child. He did. He started his own business and while life was always financially tenuous for us, he did what he needed to do to keep me safe. It was adventurous of him but the excitement of wondering if they’d be able to make the rent each month was not the stuff of stories. He had his first stroke at the age of 69 and spent almost twenty years in a slow painful decline.
The last decades of my father’s life asked a different kind of bravery from him than facing a spurned lover with a gun or fleeing from political danger. But the spark that put him on that white horse at the head of the battalion kept burning in him.
I left the candle alone. Ten hours later, it is still burning, the flame feeding on itself for strength. The way I still feel fed by my father, and the way we are supporting each other through these dark times.