As I write this, I’ve just arrived back in Marietta after spending nearly a month in South Georgia with my stepmother, Nona, who is in transition. As late-stage Alzheimer’s has taken its toll on her health, I’ve been standing in the middle of a whirlwind of activity. I find that I am in constant communication with all different types of people, always on call. It is a bit of a hurricane.
It came to me as I reflected on what to share today. These days, I am like an everlasting oak, standing resolutely at the eye of a storm.
According to my Celtic ancestors, Oak trees may be understood as symbols of strength and stability. Their branches offer far-reaching protection. Their roots offer deep seated endurance. In the deep South, oak trees are also evergreen, everlasting.
The oak tree stands.
Somehow, it makes perfect sense that solstice bonfires in ancient times depended upon the longevity of an oak-burning fire.
According to tradition, the Saxons and Celts often burned the entire trunk of an oak tree. If the tree burned for the entire 12 hours between dusk and daylight, it was a good sign. A lit fire symbolized good news for the household. In the days ahead, the family could anticipate an abundant harvest and depend upon their health to stand them in good stead.
At the heart of the hospice grounds, there is a large oak tree. I remember those long ago days when my late Daddy and Nona were among its first volunteers. It’s a memory from which I draw strength. I am blessed with the understanding that Nona’s journey has come full circle in this place where she is surrounded by loving friends.
Despite the bittersweetness, I am grateful to have been able to stand for her like that tree. The tree and I have become companions.Here is what I have learned while standing within its embrace: I am strong enough.
Even as we face winter’s darkness, each of us is strong enough.
No matter the circumstances, no matter what happens, we stand. We do not sit and wait, or wander aimlessly in the dark. Resolutely, we choose to move forward with whatever it is that must be done.
We do not wait for someone else to do the difficult work. Instead, we persevere. We look unwaveringly at the truth of what must be done, then we find a way to do it. We find our strength and our will to see it through.
But like the oak, at the winter solstice, we must also look toward the light. Let each step we take lead us out of darkness, chaos or confusion. The light of the turning year will lend us the guidance we seek. We must allow ourselves respite and open to receive the light’s promise of good days yet to come.
Let us follow the light of this solstice on the longest of nights. May the good that we do be a light in the world.