December 21, 2013 § 2 Comments


The longest night of the year suggests more hours reading in bed, or stitching Christmas stockings by candlelight, or making babies to be born at harvest time, or dreaming unlikely futures. I’ll stick to the first activity, with a cat tucked under my chin and another sprawled across my legs. I like being furniture.

Last night we went to the Paul Winter Consort Solstice Concert at the Cathedral. “This is what cathedrals are for,” said Charles, stunned by the power of the event, and though I think they are for lots of things, there’s no question that the union of Paul Winter and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the happiest blend of old and new American culture—which for all its occasional insularity, usually ends up embracing if not embroidering the world’s art.

The Consort was joined by the Forces of Nature Dance Company, gospel singer Theresa Thomason and Brazilian singers Ivan Lins and Renato Braz. The evening was dedicated to Brazilian guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, who died in September. The Brazilians sang songs of Christmas, longing and exile with tenderness and that cool-warm charm for which they are justly renowned. Paul and the dancers presented a piece for the Grand Canyon (“We were recording out there and we found a small side canyon with the same 7-second reverberation as the Cathedral, so now we refer to the Cathedral as the Grand Canyon East”). Winter, looking like a druid priest as imagined by a star-struck NYC kid raised on the Nutcracker, was surrounded by the spirits of rock, air and light. It was mesmerizing theater, glorious sound and the beautiful animal grace of bodies on our blue-green planet.

A tribute to Nelson Mandela, by the Forces of Nature, was the kind of outpouring that gives one faith in the human race. A couple of dozen laughing dancers in colorful costumes were playful, joyful, sexy and acrobatic as the drummers beat a rhythm to wake the dead. That this never works is not and has never been the point.

Who am I to feel negative (where my spirit still pulls me) after watching such ebullience in honor of Madiba? It is a privilege to be alive, to have seen as much as I have of the earth, to be surrounded by talent and drive, endurance and kindness; and to know that there are still, if not for long, elephants, honeybees and tigers.

That twilight. That darkness. It’s not all there is. I feel profound guilt and shame for what we have taken from the creatures, whose lives are utterly their own, who cannot be assigned value. But I can’t stop connecting with people, though I often want to hibernate, and not only in December. “I love your hair,” shrieked a woman in the elevator this morning, “I’m going to let mine go like that!” My hair is long and multi-colored-—brown, gray, silver—and today was frizzy and barely brushed. “I look like a witch,” I said to Charles.

“We like witches,” responded my husband, patting his bad-tempered mouse-gray and rust patchwork cat, eating the banana-pecan bread I baked instead of working. I have to write about the Cathedral. Well, I am. I’ll get to the professional stuff later. This is my personal Cathedral: stone in memory of stone, throngs of people, light always.

Paul’s young daughters danced the old year out and the new year in, and in an inspired bit of showmanship, the lit-up globe came down the aisle and was lifted above the stage, already graced by a Christmas tree decorated with cymbals. There were wolf howls and “Silent Night” in Portuguese. We walked to the subway glowing with Christmas, with the gifts of the Solstice and the season: Winter’s gifts.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens


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§ 2 Responses to Solstice

  • Leyla says:

    Utmost serenity. And love. This is what I find in your words. Ode to life; your pen launches a thousand ships.

  • Dana (we lived in the same house on Unoin St. in NJ) says:

    Oh Margaret, you are still alive. Excellent. Three months is a long time between posts. We here on the west coast thought you were no longer with us.

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