Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Christmas Lights - Wayfaring Stranger

As I walked home tonight with the decorated houses so bright against the dark Portland streets, I remembered a Christmas eve in SF years ago, when a friend called to tell me a friend of his had committed suicide. Before his death this man made a circle of Christmas lights on his kitchen floor. He’d then taken his collection of vintage stuffed animals and campy dolls and set them around the circle where I imagine they sat glowing, as if in some faery ring or some enchanted tea party. He then fixed a rope to the exposed heavy pipes that ran along the ceiling and hanged himself within in his magic circle.

The call ended and I couldn’t stay home dwelling on this image so I walked down to the Mission district. The Victorian houses above Dolores Park were vibrantly trimmed - every antique, wedding cake detail sparkling with icicle lights – white – blue- gleaming spectrums. Bright Christmas trees stood in bay windows, boughs draped with red ribbon and tiny bulbs. I thought of Dickens, of Scrooge standing unseen and unheard at the fine party, of the spirit of Marley revealing that the air of London on Christmas Eve was thicker with lost souls than with snow or soot. I wound down into the Mission where cheap statues of Jesus, Mary, and all the saints waited patiently and compassionately in closed shop windows.

I ended up in some basement club, lit only by ropes of blue lights. On the dim stage, a woman sang old hymns in a high, sweet voice. During Wayfaring Stranger, I closed my eyes and imagined the river Jordan - one bank of blood and muscle– one bank of bright gold – dark water between. As the words came “ Beauteous fields lie just before me…” I pictured thousands of fragile lights on a dark rolling landscape - streetlights - Christmas lights – candles – “…Where God’s redeemed their vigil’s keep.”