Candles in the Window
My brother Willie and I are alike in our desire for order; he likes to have things just so, and so do I. We like lists and plans and knowing what to expect. Unexpected changes to our usual routines do not sit well with us. And though this can pose difficulties at times, it also presents us with moments of beauty, shared experiences of continuity and tradition. In the midst of this holiday season, I think of the traditions that my brother has begun, the small ways in which he shows his love for our family through his acts of service. For example, Willie likes to run to the mailbox and pick up our family's mail each day. He enjoys taking empty plastic, metal, and glass containers out to the garage for recycling, and helping my dad unload the groceries from Costco. He takes pride in his ability to contribute, and becomes frustrated if he cannot complete his usual tasks. For Willie, as for all of us, service to others and a sense of personal success are inextricably linked.
At times I lose sight of this; at times, I cannot see past Willie's support needs, and how much my parents do to care for him. Yet it is important for me to remember that Willie cares for them as well. He gives as he is able. Though at times I forget this truth, the holidays help me to remember. In this season, I am reminded that, in fact, we all need each other's small acts of love more than we know.
In a way, seeing how Willie values his acts of service prepared me for life in the L'Arche community (a faith-based non-profit with group homes across the world, where I lived for two years). In working with the core members there, I learned about the humility and dailiness inherent in real love. I learned that sometimes, the most heroic actions are the small, consistent ones, the ones that no one will applaud or herald. And nowhere was this more apparent to me than at L'Arche's nightly prayer-times. Most often, prayer-times are very simple: Community members pass a candle around the table and share something that they're thankful for, or their favorite part of the day. But at one L'Arche supper I attended, the person leading prayer asked us to share an insight about the nature of the person to our left. Specifically, we were asked to share “what filled them”. Cassandra, who was seated to my right, shifted to face me when it was her turn to speak. With a smile on her face, she said, “I believe that you are full of love.” That unexpected statement has sustained me through many dark times. When I doubt myself, I have held on to Cassandra's words, knowing them to be both an affirmation and a challenge.
People like Cassandra and Willie have taught me that small acts of love are what light our way in dark times, literally and figuratively. Case in point: When my husband and I visit my family for the holidays, I know what we'll see as we drive up the dead-end street at night. As we approach, we'll see a house full of light, a home with candles in every window to welcome us. Turning on the electric candles has become Willie's responsibility, something he does with clockwork regularity each night of the holiday season. I always thank him for doing it, though I'm not sure he understands why I value it as I do. And, in truth, I do not fully understand it myself. All I know is that, when I see those lights in every window, I feel connected to my brother. Whenever I see those small lights illuminating the darkness, I remember all that Willie has to offer, and I give thanks.