Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Miracle Candle Tradition

The holidays are such reflective times. Many of us feel vulnerable. Mixed with all the jolliness, emotions are raw. Regrets may surface. Old wounds may be opened. Families are either missed or have stayed a tad too long. If we're lucky, gratitude springs forward and small miracles reveal themselves.

Under our Christmas tree this year was one gift tagged to me that I fully expected from my mother. The small box of six orange votive candles are worthless to anyone else. The very box and celophane window are yellowed and worn from age. Oh, but how precious these candles are.

When I was a young child, my father received a case of candles from a client. A slew of six-pack boxes of candles was marked with the company name, Miracle Candle Company. I don’t remember what happened to any of that bulk of candles. With the exception of one small box.

Some time around my marriage in 1988, my mother wrapped one of those Miracle Candle Company boxes and gave it to me for Christmas. No doubt, it was a practical gift from mother to daughter-one of those stocking stuffer items like extra toothbrushes and hand lotion. I put the box in my closet, right next to my meager box of first Christmas decorations.

The next Christmas, I stumbled upon that crisp cardboard box with the crystal clear celophane window revealing the orange candles inside. I don’t remember what possessed me, but I wrapped it and slapped a name tag on it for my mother. Call it re-gifting with a giggle. Or call me an indian giver (no p.c. backlash please- you know what I mean.)

She laughed. I laughed. She stored the candles away. And the very next year, I unwrapped the very same box. Thus began a crazy, inexplicable, nonsensicle, wonderful tradition. It was as if we held a hand over our hearts and issued an unspoken oath, “She who unwraps the box will dutifully protect the little miracles and return them to sender in 365 days (leap year not withstanding.)” At some point in the early years, I added a label to the box with the words, “Tag, you’re it!”

It has been 21 years since the candles began the annual Christmas pilgrimage back and forth between us. Our lives, like our world, have changed in that time. The years have blessed and plagued our mother-daughter relationship with a kaleidoscope of tension, hopefulness, regret, fondness, anger, admiration and, behind it all, love. Through it all, even if we weren’t speaking at the time, we both knew that Christmas day would reveal those candles again. By now, I believe the name on the box refers to more than the company name. Miracle seems to be the main ingredient.

The yellowed, brittle box of dated orange candles now rests in its designated spot on my closet shelf. Next year, my mother will be expecting it.

P.S.) My nineteen-year old son shared the story of the candle tradition with his girlfriend this year. He thinks it’s “cool.” You know what that means? Someday, he will open a Christmas present and find a very battered box of Miracle Candles with a label that says, “Tag, you’re it!”

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Before you can inspire with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself."

The adults in my life don't want any more "stuff" for Christmas. Frankly, neither do I. So, I'm giving different kinds of gifts this year. It turns out there's a charity that matches every interest.

At 73, my mother still dotes on five horses aged 13 to 32. We watched all but the eldest be born. The old man came to us as a yearling, 31 years ago. Needless to say, Mom knows a thing or two about nurturing horses, even when they've lost their teeth. For Christmas, I decided to make a donation to Habitat for Horses in her honor. What local humane societies do for dogs and cats, HFH does for horses. But the scale of abuse and neglect is often much greater. I know this is one gift that Mom will appreciate on a very deep level.

Is it a coincidence that I was drawn to HFH as a charitable contribution? Not hardly. I inherited my love of horses from my mother. We share that equine gene that draws us to horses like moths are drawn to light. But, not just as playthings or ornaments. There's a maternal protectiveness at the heart of it.

That explains my current WIP, the most challenging and emotional writing project I've tackled. At the heart of the nonfiction tale is animal abuse, most prominently among horses. When you've loved an animal truly, it's emotionally difficult to dig into the ugly side of abuse.

I cried as I read the heartbreaking abuse cases at HFH. I wept for the animals' fears, pain, and unspoken question of "Why?" directed at the humans whom they have loved unconditionally.

The tears were still falling when I read the following quote by Winston Churchill:

"Before you can inspire with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself. Before you can move their tears, your own must flow. To convince them, you must yourself believe." -Winston Churchill

Coincidence? I think not!