So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.
-Jane Hirshfield

In the last few weeks, I have written out this quote (with a gold pen on beautiful cranberry paper) on 90 Christmas cards. I think it helped.

Because there’s been plenty of reason lately to think the darkness might have taken over. Omicron. The ongoing Covid surges here and everywhere. Shootings in schools. Tornadoes and earthquakes and ongoing droughts. Widespread political and social upheaval. Even closer to home among our dear circle of loved ones, there have been some recent serious health concerns and a number of unexpected deaths. So much darkness.

It’s that time of year, as the days grow shorter and the nights darker, as the weeks and the months pile up behind us, as another pandemic year surges us into the unknown, where we find ourselves taking stock once again. We count the remaining days of 2021 and tick off tasks still to be done. We look backwards and forwards, we plan and rehearse, we make lists and circle through the familiar patterns of our holidays and traditions. Meanwhile, the scales of our lives hang precariously in the balance.

Work as a musician in these strange times lurches forward, stumbles backward. This December we have had a month of Christmas music, after the pounding silence of last year’s shutdown. Matt has choirs again, but masked and muffled. Still, he reminds himself, it’s a choir. I played a NM Philharmonic concert in early December and five Nutcrackers, seeing some friends and colleagues for the first time since the pandemic began. This afternoon is my (almost) annual Christmas Tea for the studio alumni home for the holidays. Even though this group is entirely vaccinated, we will drink tea and eat cookies outside around a fire in the chiminea instead of crowding together inside. The last few weeks have included plenty of evening walks to take in Christmas lights and décor, hours of candles burning in the fireplace and on the dining room table, plenty of soup and many pots of hot tea. My dad, brother and I drove down to see the thousands of sandhill cranes wintering outside of Socorro. Matt’s beloved sister Mary came for a week earlier in the month. The scales wobble, unstable, but holding.

On January 30, our dear friend Marge turned 95. She was the mother-in-law of one of our groomsmen and, some 20+ years ago when we moved to Fort Worth, had adopted Matt and I as her own. She was pivotal in helping Matt obtain his first full-time church job, and has been a guardian angel in our lives for over two decades. In the years since we left Texas, we have seen Marge when we could, but not often enough. During the pandemic, I had taken up the practice of evening walks in the neighborhood, often calling someone for company. “Well hello darling!” she would always greet me when I called, in her unmistakable Texas twang. “How are you, Marge?” I would ask. “Mean as ever,” she would reply.

It was our precious call-and-response. “The day I don’t hear that will be a very sad day,” I’d always tell her. On January 30, her daughter Shari threw her a birthday party with chocolate cake and champagne. We talked to her in the middle of the festivities, and afterwards I joked to Matt, “Maybe Marge has had a little too much champagne.”

The next night, Marge went to bed and never woke up.

If we were writing the story, we couldn’t have written a better ending for Marge, or for any of us, really. Chocolate cake and champagne, surrounded by our friends. May we all go out of this world with such a sweet taste on our tongues.

Our precious kitten’s namesake, the Victorian writer Anthony Trollope, was a man whose practices I could get behind. He was known for getting up at dawn and writing a set number of words and pages every day before he started his job in the British Postal Service. He wrote 47 novels without drama or fuss, but rather by simply showing up and getting to work, day after day after day after day.

In March 2020 when the world fell apart, it fell to us to keep showing up. As we stumble forward, we measure out the small, ordinary moments. There is so much we cannot know about what is ahead, and still, we bravely try to write our stories. We eat less meat, more plants. We swim laps and ride our bikes. We read and garden, drink champagne, savor dark chocolate. We light candles, breathe, hold all of this brokenness precious. Still.

So few grains of happiness . . . and still the scales balance. They do. They really do.


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