This Little Light Leads Me Home By Another Way
I was already late and well on my way to my late husband’s memorial service before I realized that the urn with his ashes still sat on the kitchen table.
The blame goes to my cell phone, which didn’t automatically connect to the Columbus Ohio cell towers after our long drive from South Dakota, which meant that the clock on my phone was on Central Time instead of Eastern Time, which made my alarm ring an hour off, which caused me to oversleep during my desperately needed nap before the service began.
An hour before the service, my dear friend Sarah rushed into my room, shook me awake, and pointed to the locally-time-synchronized digital alarm clock on the nightstand.
Meanwhile, our wonderful ‘manny,’ Jason, who helped us beyond measure in the first year of Karl’s post-accident healing, realized that he’d forgotten his shoes, necessitating that after I shook off the shock of being late to this worship-of-all-worships I call my mentor Walt Bouman, whom I guessed more or less had Jason’s shoe size, to ask if we could borrow a pair of his finest dress shoes.
I told Jason to grab Karl as he sped out the door to go get Walt’s shoes, I sent sweet Sarah and her husband Mike over to the seminary to let people know that we were on our way, I nursed Else while pulling on my hose (no small feat, must say), I got her changed and in her dress, and, more or less pulled-together, she and I dashed to Bill’s service, only a few short minutes before it was to begin.
My little E had no idea what was really happening: she was only a year and a half.
Running on the sidewalk to the seminary, I had Else on my left hip, holding her close while trying to hold it together.
And then, what did this girl of mine do?
She started to sing.
She took out her little first finger, and she sang, with a smile, in her barely-toddler voice, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…”
Now, Else had no idea why we were rushing or where we were rushing to, although we’d talked about it.
How can a small girl of just a year and a half of living comprehend the finality of death?
But what could I do?
Only one thing: I took my right hand, and I put up my right pointer finger, and I joined her, my warbling-with-tears voice joining her ever-so-young-and-innocent one. “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine…”
And this is moving, and this is powerful, but this is also the point when, about the time that we got to “Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine” it dawned on me: Like a flash, I saw my little Else in my left arm, and I saw my little light in my right pointer finger, and it came to me: “Oh. My. God. Where’s Bill?”
And I laughed and I cried as E-girl and I ran all the way back to the seminary apartment to fetch Bill, knowing that more than anyone, he would have thought that me making him late to his own memorial service was really, really funny.
Today is Epiphany.
The text for the day is this:
2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Epiphany is the season of light, of brightness, of defiant hope and action when fear and threat and uncertainty otherwise seem to surround us.
And I like to think it is also the season of surprises.
Whatever Mary was thinking about in that moment (Joseph, for some reason, isn’t mentioned in this text: I like to think he was out getting diapers or take-out for the mother of his child), I imagine that it wasn’t entertaining foreign dignitaries, let alone quite knowing what to do with a sudden influx of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
But there they were, all of it: kings and gifts, suddenly, right there, surprising this impoverished and tired mama.
Whatever I, an emotionally impoverished and tired mama, was thinking about on my way to my late husband’s’ memorial service, I can tell you this: it wasn’t light (or, quite apparently, Bill’s urn).
It was, instead I’m sure, the new reality that we were officially marking, the new normal, the new home.
But tiny, tiny Else and her tiny, tiny voice and her tiny, tiny finger light surprised me, and helped our whole little family go home by another road illuminated by a light that shined, even through the fear, and the threat, and the uncertainty, and the deep, deep grief.
Her finger and her tune, and even my imagination of my late husband’s tear-wiping-from-the-cheeks cackle (at my expense) for having left him on the table for his last earthly worship, marked an Epiphany that shines yet all these years later.
May this Epiphany mark for you, in whatever fear and threat and uncertainty and grief you may be experiencing, the possibility of light, and the possibility of surprise, and the possibility of joyfully defiant hope.
You can go home.
You can go home by another road.
Look up, look around, look for the light, a light which might come from very surprising places.
You are an incredible story teller. No matter what the material. I cried and laughed with you.
Oh, thank you Ginger. Those are very kind words, and I’m glad that the story seemed to be worth your read! Peace to you and yours!
Anna, I love reading what you write. This story and witness is especially moving and poignant for me today. Thank you!
Gwen, thank you. I appreciate your words and encouragement so very much. A blessed first day of Epiphany to you and to yours!
Thank you for this story, Anna. I needed it today. Setting the new normal. We can always find a path home from the littlest light. Just beautiful, as always.
Steve, I’m grateful that they resonated with you. Peace to you on this first Epiphany day!
This was forwarded to me by a mutual friend. (BW) He moved to Sioux Ciry, SD, from Milwaukee. I also agree with your story-telling abililty.
So pleased that you enjoyed the piece, and thank you (and BW!) for your kind words about it. Peace to you!
A new home and another way are scary even if a bright star is ahead of us! Yet Else and other children singing a child’s song about her and their shining can lead us toward confidence in the midst of our anxieties. They help embolden us as we head toward still a lot of unknowns. In our Epiphany celebration this morning, we sang “O Morning Star, how fair and bright! You Shine with God’s own truth and light” (ELW 308). Stanza 5 goes “over the top” about singing our way toward the star.
I love that “singing our way toward the star.” Yep. Thank you for your comment and for the new “confidence in the midst” that it conveys, Ray!