Three years ago, on New Year’s Day, I went out walking to the small pasture where our horses run wild during the winter months. The day was cool but not cold, snowy but not so snowy that I couldn’t hike comfortably across the fields, breathing in the crisp, fresh air. It was the middle of the afternoon, and the sun hung low in the sky. There was a ceiling of pearly gray clouds above me that left only a thin strip of blue for the light to slip through, but the golden beams shimmering below the cover of clouds illuminated the fields and the sparkling crust of snow. In the distance, the horses galloped across the convergence of land and sky and light, their tails lifted high with the delight of their own powerful movement. 

I walked back to the house smiling, and that night I wrote: “2019…I have a good feeling about this year…” and I meant it. 

I’ve thought often of that day, and of writing those words. What I didn’t know then was none of the secret dreams I was harboring, or the plans I was laying would come to pass. Much of 2019 was spent doing the sacred work of grieving, as well as the sacred work of discovering the person I would become in the aftermath of loss.

Then came 2020 and 2021, two more years of uncertainty with global events that shook so many structures to the ground that a lot of us are still wandering in landscapes that look unrecognizable. What a way to start a decade.

When I was a teenager, I remember reading the words of the poet Kahlil Gibran: “The deeper Sorrow carves into your being, the more Joy you can contain,” and feeling frightened. I did not want to be pierced by the sharp knives of grief even if it increased my capacity for joy. Young and mostly untested by life, I hoped there could be a way to get the joy without the suffering.  

Ruminating from the vantage point of middle-age, I have experienced the truth of Gibran words now and I am no longer frightened by them. I am not frightened because I have also experienced the peace that comes with that truth. I am a different ‘I’ now — and I am deeply thankful for the person I have become. I am kinder to others and to myself. I am quicker to forgive. I am unendingly thankful for the circle of my husband’s arms and for the laughter of my children, for the quiet sweetness of our life here on the prairie, and for the earth and its heart-rending beauty. All of it is a gift. I am thankful for the holiness of the spirit that sometimes arises and guides us through the darkness. I am thankful even for the darkness, which allows us to know the blessedness of light.

With all this in mind, last month I took my children down to the north pasture to search for materials to make an advent wreath. A wreath to light us through the darkness of midwinter, the wreath’s light expanding as the tired year wanes. Down in the snaking cover of the draws, we gathered silver sage leaves, striped turkey feathers, scarlet buffalo berries dried on their slim thorns, and the golden ghosts of asters’ stems. Back at home, I molded a wide ring with salt dough and we added the items we’d collected to the circle. Both children suddenly seemed so grown up, working busily, chatting quietly with each other. We added the candles and then lit the first one. 

Behind us, our Christmas tree twinkled with color. The reflections of the tiny bulbs were sprinkled across the shadowed kitchen window like a thousand bright stars, carrying the warmth of our little house out into the long, deep night — a reminder that darkness cannot hold us forever. The time is fast approaching when we will once again turn, turn, turn toward the light.

Eliza Blue lives on a ranch in northwest South Dakota. She’s a musician, mom, author, and shepherd. She writes a column for newspapers in her region and produces audio commentary for South Dakota Public Radio. You can learn more about Eliza on her website.

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