Every year around this time, I feel a need to update a column from previous years. This one dates from 2013.
The first Christmas after Joan died, I decided not to put away all the Christmas decorations. They spoke to me of warmth in winter, of caring and compassion, of togetherness – themes I desperately needed that first year of Covid-19 isolation.
So, for the last three years, a small ceramic Christmas tree has been sitting on a table in my front hall. It’s not much of a tree – about 12 inches high, dark green, with whitish snowflakes on the ends of its branches. A light bulb inside shines out through coloured plastic plugs stuck into holes in the branches.
If I’m going out at night, I turn it on before I leave. When I come home again, it welcomes me back, glowing softly in the darkened entry.
It never was particularly pretty, I suppose. But it’s special. Because it was given to me with love.
It came from a woman named Lorraine Wicklow almost 50 years ago. The next summer, Lorraine died of a massive brain hemorrhage.
As far as I know, she had no family, no relatives. Perhaps I was her family. She used to drop in at my office, when I worked for the United Church’s national magazine, The Observer. She always arrived at the very end of the day, just as I was loading up my briefcase to go home.
Internally, I sighed. I knew this would be a long evening.
“Just a minute, Lorraine,” I would say. Then I’d call Joan: “Lorraine just dropped in.”
Joan understood, and took supper out of the oven.
“I mustn’t keep you,” Lorraine always said. But she did, anyway.
Lorraine’s theology couldn’t have been farther from mine. She attended a fundamentalist church. She had visions. She told me about heaven. About streets paved with gold, and gates made of jewels. About the people she met there, and their message for me.
When I described her visions to Gordon Nodwell, the minister at the United Church down the street from my office, he said, “That’s straight out of Revelation.”
So I read Revelation.
She’d relate another of her visions. “Do you believe that?” she would ask, leaning forward earnestly.
“Not really,” I would reply. And I would try to explain, as well as I could.
She countered with a text, invariably from the King James Version.
We lived in different worlds. But we listened to each other.
Still, whether I understood her or not, I know she lived her faith, 100 percent. She forgave me for my heresies, because that’s what Jesus would have done.
And, sometimes, after I had stumbled through an explanation of why I believed what I did, she would say, “You know, when you talk to me that way, you almost shine.”
Lorraine’s little ceramic tree still shines in the darkness of my front hall. It seems to embody the promise in John’s gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to put it out.”
Someday, Lorraine’s tree will break and go into landfill. Until then, though, she continues to shine in my memories.
~Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country: firstname.lastname@example.org