You’re not alone

 

Traci in frame for websiteGrief can be a slow ache that never seems to stop rising, yet as we grieve, those we love mysteriously become more and more a part of who we are. ~ Mark Nepo 

Today’s post was originally published, with the same title, on December 10, 2012. I decided to re-publish it today, on the three-year anniversary of Traci’s death, after a friend who is also a widow reminded me once again, “You’re not alone.” It feels like an important message to share with those who grieve.

I’d like to once again thank Sarah Slean, whose incredible song helped pull me through a very difficult time at the beginning of all this. With the lyrics for this song, I believe she touches on something beyond than our earthly existence. I can’t say what her original inspiration was, but these lyrics transcend the personal and convey a universal meaning that will speak to all who have lost someone special, or who know there is more to life than what we perceive with our physical senses.

It’s sometimes best if we don’t try to label or explain when we feel the presence of something numinous, or non-material. Some say that this presence is a product of our own brain waves, helping to restore a balance. Some believe it’s the spirit of our loved ones, letting us know they are watching over us. I’m not going to try and define it. Everyone has their own interpretation of Presence, whether it follows traditional doctrine or not. This is how it should be. I just hope that those who need it, feel it, and that it helps with whatever they are struggling with.

The original post follows below. It’s my interpretive response to Sarah’s lyrics. If the use of the feminine pronoun doesn’t work for you, feel free to switch it for the masculine, neuter, or even plural pronoun.

The song is shared here with a static video. If you would like to see the slideshow tribute to Traci with this song as its soundtrack, click here.


This is for those who grieve, who feel the bottom has dropped out of their world, the heartbroken and the despondent. Take courage, my friends. You are not alone. 

“You’re Not Alone” words and music (c) 2011 by Sarah Slean

endeavour to go into it
until a sign appears
don’t be afraid of anything
you are guided

You are guided by a presence that encompasses all. In that presence, the voice of your beloved reaches through to comfort you, even through your tears and sorrow. She will be with you, whenever you need her to be. Not as she was – for that can never be – but as a part of the light, and a part of you, forever.

it will never be as we imagine it
unless we imagine it to be

The future is in your hands and in your mind. Picture how you wish things to be, not as they once could have been, but how they could be now when you sense the universe inside of you, and the unfolding of possibility from which all creation springs.

I wonder where you are now
I hear you calling me

She is calling you, to let you know that it will be all right. Let her go, set her free, the oneness is calling her …

I’m telling you you’re not alone
a kind of light flows through it all

She can feel what you can not, until you allow it and open to it. The light that flows through everything, unites her and you, your loved ones gone before and here now, your loved ones still to come. All are one in the light. There is no past, no future, only now.

I hear a voice inside my own
like a waking dream
no you’re not alone

Her voice comes through yours, in the words that flow from your mouth and from your heart. You can not help but take courage and strength from the inspiration she provides. You will almost feel as though another you is emerging from the darkness, and taking shape in the light.

you cannot see or listen to
the very heart of life
it isn’t there, then suddenly
you feel it

It is very hard to see or feel the light when the darkness has descended on you. Yet, whether you perceive it or not, that light is always there, eternal. It is the very heart of life that beats in us all. Maybe all you need to do to find peace is to sit in stillness. Don’t go looking for the light; wait for it to come to you. Hear through the silence the pulse of life, and be grateful for it.

going no direction it is everywhere
knowing every word it makes no sound
I was no believer
but I am certain now

It is a paradox. How can something be there and not-there at the same time? It is your sitting with darkness which calls forth the light. It is your sitting with silence which brings forth the voice. She is with you because you have opened yourself to her, and when you feel her you will know, you will be certain …

certain that we’re not alone
a kind of light flows through it all
I hear a voice inside my own
like a waking dream
no you’re not alone

Is this really happening? or is it all just happening inside my head? Of course it’s happening inside your head, but why should that mean it isn’t really happening? You are your perceptions: admit and accept them.

there isn’t time for anything but mercy
everything is giving birth to everything

All that was, all that is, all that will be, is here now. Every moment you lived with her, is here now, and amazing, beautiful new things are emerging from that union inside of you, inside the heart of the universe.

nothing in the world is as it seems
light upon the water,
that is the light in me

Now you’re getting it. Transcending grief is never easy. You are forced into such a desperate, lonely place, where you feel the walls crushing in on you. But then an unexpected mercy appears, a light fracture of hopefulness, and in that mere moment of grace, an entire life emerges. You emerge, whole and complete. Now, in this moment, you honour your beloved by saying Yes to life.

and it’s telling me you’re not alone
a kind of light flows through it all
I hear a voice inside my own
like a waking dream
and no you’re not alone

Whenever you feel the darkness descending again, when you feel lost and alone, don’t fear it. Simply accept it, feel it, allow it to be, and sit.

Sit and wait for the light.

9154-birth-of-a-star

Related posts:

Ordinary day

Yesterday’s post felt like a bit of a downer, though it generated a lovely response from a few readers. Thank you to everyone who commented; if there is one purpose that “the return of the Rambler” might serve, it’s to help someone who is struggling after loss gain a new perspective and feel hopeful for the future.

Because, after all, as Alan Doyle and the GBS crew sing,

In this beautiful life, there’s always some sorrow
It’s a double-edged knife, but there’s always tomorrow
It’s up to you now if you sink or swim,
Keep the faith and your ship will come in.
It’s not so bad.

Great Big Sea was one of Traci’s favourite bands, by the way. Listening to this song now, it’s as if I can hear her whispering in my ear, “Cheer up, my love. It’s not so bad. Stay positive, and appreciate what you have.”

I will, and I do.

It’s just another, ordinary day. One more day to live, one more day to love, one more day to keep the faith alive.

Hit it, boys:

One thousand and ninety-six days

flag, Ontario, half-mast, island, dock, Georgian Bay

It’s been three years to the day

Since I held you in my arms

There at the dockside

On your way back to the island where you worked.

We thought you’d be gone for ten days

Ten days, we thought, that’s a long time

So we hugged and kissed a little extra tender and long

We kissed and said “I love you” to each other

Then off you went.

Little did we know it was for the last time.

Three days later you left on your final journey.

This is grief, three years in.

Now, I am happy more often than sad.

I have loved another. I have begun to dig myself out from under. I can see the path ahead more clearly. I spend less time looking through the rear view window.

Perhaps it’s that desire to keep looking ahead rather than back which is the main reason I haven’t been writing. This feels self-indulgent now, and I wonder why anyone would want to read it.

I am less “compelled to create” and driven more by a sense of duty. Yet I am hoping to get back in motion and start writing regularly again, if only to help maintain some equilibrium and perspective. It might be self-indulgent, but at least it’s real.

As real as that final hug and kiss, three years ago. Oh, I miss her so.

traci, doug, woman, man, kiss, river, snow

Start Wearing Purple – It’s Purple Day

Purple Day Cover

I wanted people around the world to come together and teach others about epilepsy. ~ Cassidy Megan, founder of Purple Day 

All over the world today, people are wearing purple and holding events for epilepsy awareness. I salute those who are doing so much, including my friends at SUDEP Aware whose compilation, published last year, highlights what the day means to families bereaved by epilepsy.

My wife Traci Cleverley Pink lived with epilepsy from a young age, but she never let it dominate her life. Considering that her seizures were largely controlled through medication, her death from SUDEP in November 2011 at the age of 39 came as an utter shock. Hers was a compassionate, generous soul and she left a large hole in our community. I pray for the day when no one suffers the devastating loss of a family member from SUDEP, and thank the organizers of Purple Day and the SUDEP Aware team for continuing to spread awareness about epilepsy and SUDEP. ~ Doug Cleverley, Purple Day statement for SUDEP Aware

Today, I will wear purple, and remember.

If you or members of your family have epilepsy, I encourage you to find out all you can about seizure prevention and about SUDEP. It’s been said by many that epilepsy has been in the shadows for too long; then there is SUDEP, hidden in the shadows of epilepsy. How many family members of people with epilepsy know nothing about SUDEP? Don’t let tragedy be the reason you find out, as it was for me and continues to be for too many families.

campaign_logoFor more information, I highly recommend SUDEP Aware’s “Making Sense of SUDEP” eToolkit – click here to visit the campaign page and download the materials. For general information about epilepsy, I recommend you visit Purple Day’s Epilepsy Resources page or the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance website.

Will you join me in wearing purple today? Help bring epilepsy and SUDEP out of the shadows!

Burlington-20120326-PurpleDay

Lisa Scott’s Purple Day 2012 miracle orchid – see Moving In and scroll down to the end.

And now for something completely different, because I can never think of Purple Day without thinking of this song, a favourite of Traci’s. Purple is the colour for today …

 

Always remembering Traci

Traci at White Point Resort, Nova Scotia

Your name is upon my tongue
your image is in my sight
your memory is in my heart
where can I send these words that I write ?
Rumi

You would be 42 years old today. I’m reflecting on this, and thinking today will always be a day to remember you. I am sad that you are gone, but happy you were born, and that we shared a life together for a few years.

Today, Shadow and I will brave the bitter weather and go for a walk on our beach. You will be there with us, in spirit, and I’ll throw a stick for Shadow, thinking of you.

Readers, I have little more I can add to what I wrote last year, and the year before. My life is changing, the face of grief is evolving, and I find I have little to say today that hasn’t already been said. If you knew Traci, and if you are so moved, please just take a moment today, and say, Thank you.

Previous birthday posts:

 

Choosing hope in a desperate time

My reflections (finally) on the article by Charles Eisenstein, published here earlier this month.

sunrise ceremonyIn his essay, 2013: Hope or Despair?, Charles Eisenstein suggests a polarity of ways to look back on the year past. He lists many developments and trends which would justify a feeling of despair, juxtaposed by quieter but compelling reasons to hope. Of the latter, he extrapolates on three trends which he sees as indicative of seismic cultural shifts, trends that mainstream society has yet to absorb but which nevertheless justify feeling hopeful, as they point to “vast, nearly unimaginable changes in coming decades”.

The three trends he identifies are curious indicators, to be sure: cannabis legalization, social acceptance and legalization of gay marriage, and the effect of public pressure in the USA to avert military action against Syria and Iran. Rather than analyzing the specific trends he chooses to highlight as indicators of much greater change to come, I’d like to focus on the question at the end of his essay. Eisenstein asks “that we treat these positive developments as harbingers of the future, and stand firmly in the energy of their possibility. They are not distractions from despair’s version of reality; they are heralds of a more beautiful world. As we move into 2014, let us ask, If these are possible, what else is possible?”

It is that ability for human beings to envision and realize a brighter future which has always inspired my hope. Some call hope a denial of reality, but as I said in my first post of the new year, “only hope without substance is vain.” In some ways, though I only read Eisenstein’s essay after I posted my own thoughts on hope, my personal reflection seems to me to suggest the next step.

After identifying trends in the world which inspire hope rather than despair, how do we make sure our hope is not in vain? Eisenstein asks us to envision further possibilities; while I agree, I think it is also important to act upon those hopeful possibilities. Inspire hope in others, by being part of the movement towards positive change.

Whether it be volunteering in your local soup kitchen, or signing and sharing petitions for causes which speak to a brighter future, or simply recognizing that we all share a responsibility to act even when action seems futile, to love even when despair threatens to divide us, to hope even when all seems hopeless, the actions we take may inspire others to act even though our efforts seem like a drop in the ocean. After all, as Adam Ewing says near the end of the film Cloud Atlas, “What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?”

water, drop, globe, ocean, environment, earth

Comes a time

My take on Charles Eisenstein’s 2013 retrospective is going to have to wait. My recent concert experience in Toronto takes precedence. Here, by popular demand (well, if one friend asking for it half-jokingly qualifies as “popular”, is my review of Neil Young’s recent concert at Massey Hall in Toronto. My apologies for the blurry photos – the distance was a challenge for my phone camera. 

neil young, massey hall, 2014

You and I we were captured
We took our souls
and we flew away
We were right
we were giving
That’s how we kept
what we gave away.

~ from Neil Young, Comes A Time (1978)

A few nights ago, I was treated to “the Neil Young concert every fan hopes to see once in their lifetime,” as a friend described it after hearing my report. Tickets for this rare solo acoustic show sold out in the first half hour after they went on sale in September, but my persistent friend kept checking and three days before the concert she lucked out and bought two tickets online, direct from the Massey Hall box office.

As long-time readers of my blog may recall, I’d seen Neil in concert not that long ago, but that was in a large arena with his band Crazy Horse. It was a great experience, but seeing him up close and personal in an intimate concert hall with the finest acoustics you’ll hear anywhere is a whole different ball game. And he knocked this one out of the park.

neil young, massey hall, 2014First, he just seemed to be in a very good mood all night. Maybe it was all the attention he was getting in the media about his anti-oilsands views. Maybe it was the warm reception the audience gave him. Maybe it was the fun he was having, once he’d settled into playing classic songs that he recorded long ago, and rarely performs anymore. After all, he did just finish a four-night sold-out run at New York’s Carnegie Hall, so he must have been feeling pretty satisfied.

And there he was, less than a hundred feet from where I sat, belting out sings like Helpless, After the Gold Rush, Ohio, and Southern Man; songs I’d never hoped to hear him sing in concert. In between songs he’d tell stories about his instruments – the high heel mark on one of his guitars, the bullet hole on another, the upright piano he rented from the Hollywood Piano Rental Company in 1970 for the recording of After the Gold Rush – and never returned.

neil young, massey hall, 2014Midway through his set, he climbed a platform at the back of the stage and began playing an ancient-looking pump organ, complete with candles, to perform an electrifying version of Pocahontas. This became his strongest political statement of the night, as he revised the lyrics and sang of Stephen Harper and broken treaties instead of Marlon Brando. He also brought new life to one of his oldest songs, Mr. Soul, hunched over the pump organ like a cross between Tom Waits and the Phantom of the Opera.

neil young, massey hall, 2014From the stage, the politics were under-stated. In interviews Neil Young makes his opposition to Canada’s tar sands project abundantly clear. On stage he allowed the music to speak for itself, his passion for the cause coming through in his selection of songs and the occasional slightly altered lyric (“we’ve got mother Nature on the run in the twenty-first century”) comes to mind. He frequently demonstrated a wry humour, however, with his message clear and succinct, such as when he took a drink out of a tall water bottle, then pointed at it and said “Water. In glass. Try it.”

Another amazing performer opened for Neil: Diana Krall. Normally known as an elegant jazz chantreuse, she took a different approach, appearing on stage in a leather jacket, jeans and knee boots, rambling through a set of mostly obscure pop songs by famous writers, more like a singer in a honky tonk than a concert artist.

This was the first of four concerts across Canada under the title Honor The Treaties. The concerts are a benefit for the Athasbascan Chipewyan First Nation’s Legal Defense Fund, as this small First Nation in Alberta takes on the federal government and Shell Oil for violation of treaty rights, and the ongoing social, economic, and health disaster which the tar sands represent to their people. There were many First Nations people in the audience, and a traditional drumming group the All Nations Drummers played before each set.

drummers, First Nations, all nations, neil young, massey hall, 2014The Athabasca Chipewyan are fighting an uphill battle. For decades their traditional lands have been encroached on by the oil sands development, which if current plans are fully realized will turn an area the size of England into an industrial wasteland. The Athabasca Chipewyan are not saying “no more development;” they have drawn a line in the sand and said no more past this line. They are asking the Canadian government to honour its treaty obligations. They are taking the government to court, a long and expensive battle, and this week, across Canada, Neil Young and Diana Krall are drawing out the crowds and generating lots of funds and media attention to help the cause.

Thanks to a persistent friend with a heart of gold, I was there to witness it. Comes a time, indeed.

Google “Neil Young – News” and you will see pages of articles from just the past ten days or so. The man knows how to get the media’s attention! Here are a few, but I encourage readers to explore further:

2013: Hope or Despair? Essay by Charles Eisenstein

Traditionally end-of-year retrospectives are published before the end of the year and before the essayist’s scan of the year ahead, but I’ve never been bound by tradition. I received a subscription email from writer and philosopher Charles Eisenstein a few days ago containing the essay below. I immediately felt compelled to share it with you, my own readers, and thank Mr. Eisenstein for offering his writings freely to the world through a Creative Commons copyright. The Rambler will return in the next post with my own reflections on the following.

2013: Hope or Despair? | Charles Eisenstein

2013: Hope or Despair?

This essay has been translated into Croatian.

“Things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster simultaneously.”

– Tom Atlee

Was the year 2013 a cause for hope or a cause for despair? Were the positive developments signs that the world is turning the corner? Or were they delusionary exceptions to the downward spiral into tyranny and ecocide?

The case for pessimism is hard to refute. We have the good news, like outbreaks of people power in Turkey, in Brazil, in Thailand and the Ukraine, juxtaposed against the collossal disappointment of the Arab Spring to bring economic, social, or political justice to the Mideast, as Egypt slips back into dictatorship, Bahrain further into autocracy, and Libya into chaos.

We have the good news – for the first time, solar and wind power have reached grid parity with fossil fuels – paired with record demand for oil and the vast expansion of fracking and tar sands exploitation, as CO2 levels topped 400 ppm for the first time and the Warsaw climate talks imploded.

We have a rennaissance of cooperative economics in southern Europe, even as austerity deepens, youth unemployment hovers near 50%, pensions are cut, and professionals flee.

In the United States, the moribund labor movement shows signs of life with strikes at Wal-Mart and McDonalds, while at the top of the pyramid, the rich get richer and Wall Street perpetrates on even greater scale the same kinds of abuses that precipitated the 2008 crisis.

Uruguay, Colorado, and Washington state legalized marijuana in 2013, yet the militarization of police forces reached new levels. Edward Snowden exposed the surveillance state to the public, yet the capability of governments to monitor people continued to grow.

Sometimes the positive developments look like pinpricks of light under a blanket of darkness. The points of light are tiny in comparison to the injustice and the ecocide. Let us not delude ourselves: Nothing substantive has really changed. The environment continues to degrade. The ocean grows more acidic. Drought spreads across the globe. Life dwindles in the oceans. Military spending increases the world over. Fukushima keeps leaking. Concentration of wealth intensifies.

The points of light, however, are not merely temporary exceptions to a negative trend, isolated bits of good news. Many of them signify a deep and ongoing tectonic shift in the psychic and ideological foundations of our culture that, while it has yet to substantially manifest in our systems and institutions, portends vast, nearly unimaginable changes in coming decades. That is why, unreasonably, these pinpricks of light inspire such hope within us.

Here are a few examples. Cannabis legalization might seem a drop in the bucket compared to the vast systemic injustice that pervades the United States and the world, but here is what it portends: (1) the demise of the ecologically destructive cotton and wood pulp monopoly for fiber and paper, as industrial hemp comes back; (2) the social acceptance of altered states of consciousness that, unlike those offered by caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, tend to accompany withdrawal from a violence-based, hurried, linear, machine society; (3) the acceptance of herbal medicine – cannabis, the first herb in a century to enjoy widespread medical use, might be a “gateway herb” at a time when conventional medicine is failing to address so many chronic conditions.

Second, consider marriage equality for gay people. The cynic might doubt whether this victory for a relatively privileged group of North Americans, with no disruption to business as usual, really deserves so much more attention than, say, ending human trafficking or sweatshop labor or water privatization or predatory lending. It is no accident, say the cynics, that the powers-that-be have channeled reformist energy into this relatively innocuous arena. I beg to differ, because gay rights is an outcropping of a deeper vein of principle that holds all human beings equally deserving of every right. Social acceptance of gay marriage marks a momentous retreat from the “othering” of people who are different from oneself – and this othering is the basis of war, punishment-based “justice,” discrimination, and to a large degree, economic exploitation.

A final example: For the first time I can remember, in 2013 public pressure averted American involvement in a war (Syria); it also reversed the trajectory to war with Iran. Insignificant, perhaps, in the context of unabated drone strikes, conflict in Afghanistan, and military bases around the globe, but rather than see Syria as an exception that proves the rule, we might see it as the start of a new trend. It foretells the end of the age of conquering the enemy, a time in which we know we are, as the Black Eyed Peas song puts it, “one tribe, one world, one people.”

Could we be seeing the next stage in the obsolescence of war, that began when the hydrogen bomb made total war between the great powers unthinkable? Could it be that the ecological crisis is making concepts of “America’s adversaries” ring hollow and obsolete? Could it be, as the $15 minimum wage movement and European unconditional basic income movement suggest, that we are beginning to assert the right of every person to be free of material want? Could it be that the rights of nature, as written into law in Ecuador and Bolivia and the subject of Europe’s ecocide initiative, are becoming as self-evident as the rights of man?

Of course, none of these possibilities are original to the year 2013. My point in illuminating them is that we treat these positive developments as harbingers of the future, and stand firmly in the energy of their possibility. They are not distractions from despair’s version of reality; they are heralds of a more beautiful world. As we move into 2014, let us ask, If these are possible, what else is possible?

(Photo Credit: Dan Foy)

Hope for the new year

hope, lights, survivor, relay for life, new year wishHappy New Year!

Some say hope is vain. Nietzsche even called it “the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.” But only hope without substance is vain. To hope without resolve to act, or without clarity: that can indeed prolong one’s suffering. But hope need not be without substance, and life need not be without hope. Maybe the specific thing you long for in your heart, that thing you know to be impossible, that thing can cause you heartache and distress, but if you accept what is and open yourself to the possibilities of what could be, then hope is not in vain.

I am hearing many friends say that 2013 was a hard year, and it certainly was for me and my children as well. But 2014 is beginning on a hopeful note, and I feel clarity and resolve coalescing around that hope.

To speak of “resolve” on New Year’s Day suggests that I may be making resolutions, but I prefer to put words into action through specific, concrete goals rather than vague resolutions. I’m inspired by my friend Lisa Scott’s words on the subject:

Have you identified your Five Big Goals for 2014?……Set Five Big Goals that give you clarity, focus, and a game plan, and then align everything you have to do, to those Five Big Goals. Make them your filter for what you will say yes to and what you will say no to…..then you can increase your effectiveness.  Don’t make resolutions…..set goals and then get busy.

Have you set your goals for 2014? I did, this morning, wrote them down on a fresh page in my journal, where I can refer to them often and remind myself of them. They are SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. I won’t list them for you all, but in a year’s time, I hope to share them with you as goals successfully achieved.

I return to where I began: Hope. Hope will not lead me to the fulfillment of my goals, but it does give me energy to act in the direction of their fulfillment. As you look to the year ahead, my hope for you is for the fulfillment of your goals, whatever they may be, and for a life richer in all the ways you desire it to be.

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for. ~ Epicurus

 

Gifts of the Magi

nativity-scene-1

Ah, Christmas. Even many of us who have left the formal church behind still feel the pull of tradition at this time of year. Years ago I asked my kids what they liked most about Christmas, and they both answered with no hesitation “Family.” This is one of the few times in a typical year when the Cleverleys gather together. We will be fewer in number this year, with one brother’s family away in Vancouver along with my mother.

To me, this time of year is about the returning of the light. Today is in fact the Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. The birth of Jesus represents the return of hope, and a reminder that life flows from love.

I have three favourite Christmas-themed stories: the 1951 Christmas Carol movie adaptation starring Alastair Sim (the non-colorized version); A Christmas Story, the classic tale of Ralphie and his quest for his most keenly-desired gift, a Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock; and the short story The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry which I reproduce in its entirety below.

Each tell a tale of hope, love, learning from one’s mistakes, and redemption. All good things to reflect on at this and any time of year.

To all my loyal readers, thank you for staying with me through all my ups and downs. Whatever your tradition or belief may be, I wish you peace, love, health, and joy as the seasons turn and the New Year begins.

And now, a clip from my #1 favourite holiday movie Christmas Carol, and then my favourite seasonal short story.

This is from the colorized version, unfortunately. And warning: the charwoman’s screams in the later scene are ear-piercing! But I do find both her and Alistair Sims’ performance in this scene highly entertaining, and I hope you do too. If you want to skip the dark and overwrought scene at the beginning, advance the clip to 1:55 and start there.

I first heard the short story The Gift of the Magi read by Alan Maitland on CBC Radio years ago (listen to it here). I find it a moving evocation of the spirit of the season. It isn’t the gift you give that matters so much as the thought behind it, as this story so cleverly (and somewhat ironically) points out.

If you’re still with me after there’s a story, there’s a special musical treat for Jethro Tull fans. In keeping with the spirit of the season, as it were.

The_Gift_of_the_Magi

THE GIFT OF THE MAGI
by O. Henry

Source: www.auburn.edu/~vestmon/Gift_of_the_Magi.html

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends–a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?”

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice– what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ‘em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

THE END