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Local History

Contemplating Other Realms at the Tag End of Another Year

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Beth Scupham via Flickr
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Creative Commons, Used with Permission

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. Once again, as we come into the shadow of the Long Dark, the giant clock that marks our time on this planet is winding down with an almost audible ticking. We feel it in our bones, the tap, the beat, the sound of days ratcheting away.

Surely that’s one cause for our frenetic dashing about this month, grabbing the tree, the turkey, one more present for the pile, chestnuts for the fire, satsumas for the stockings.

We joke about the diets to come, the resolutions, the regrets as we cherish the remnants of the feast, embers of the Yule log as well as the tag ends of a year used up and gone. So many things to remember. So much to embrace, so much to mourn. And so little time before the next round is upon us.

So what do we do with the tag end of a year? For me, more often than not, it’s a time to sit down with notebook in hand to gather up the scraps of memories, important events or precious moments that pass by too quickly, trying to catch them, hold them fast in the metaphorical album of the unforgettable, cherished bits that may not come again. One cannot come to this place in the season without thinking of endings. As of course we should.

But sometimes I wonder if there is more to to be gleaned from this year than just a string of events, a list lived in a straight line from beginning to end. Maybe there is more going on than what we see or imagine.

I stayed with my Scottish grandmother a lot when I was a child, and was privy to her ways and her world view. Often as not, when I came downstairs and said “Good Morning, Granny,” she would respond with “Hello yourself and see how you like it.” and other cryptic things like that. One thing in particular I remember that is as much a puzzle today as when I first heard her say it, and almost as disquieting. When she sat down in her rocker, tired from her labors, she would often shake her head and say “This world and one more.” I imagine you’ve heard one or another of your elders say something like that. But how many of them paused afterward and then said “And then the ironworks.’

What? I couldn’t imagine what, but it didn’t sound good.

It still doesn’t. But that, of course, reminds me of another of her sayings, one thats both true and also unsettling, and that’s “the only thing we know for sure is that we just never know.

Now Science these days has come up with some interesting notions that might argue with this, with a few of them beginning to hint at the possibility of parallel universes, one or more of them just hanging around, just out of sight, just beyond our reckoning. And they further postulate that sometimes these may touch or come very close to ours, and cause odd things to happen. Of course they can’t prove it. Just like heaven. Just like the soul. Just like - well, just like when a loved one that’s passed, for whatever reason, seems to have reached out to us and become momentarily, impossibly, but somehow present. Has that ever happened to you?

Here’s what I mean. Just a week  or two ago, I had a health scare, an odd symptom that could have been nothing, only it wasn’t. It was something, we knew not what, and it could be just an oddity, some little thing out of place. Or it could be something more, perhaps something deadly.

I’d had something happen some years back, an invader of some nearby part of me, that could have killed me, but didn’t. We couldn’t know for sure what this new thing was or wasn’t without a test, a scope. We decided on a Friday. The test would be Monday. I was concerned, but not terrified. I spotted that concern peeping out from my regular musings in the form of occasional thoughts about mortality. Wondering where my books might go. Trying to remember if my will was up to date. Concerns one might have upon sensing some impending unknown. Not doom, necessarily. But the situation certainly had my attention.

I didn’t pray. I hardly ever do that about personal concerns. I think the universe has enough on its mind without me poking at its sleeve for petty concerns. As my mother once said upon hearing her health issues might be serious – “If heaven wants me, it knows where I am.”

So Monday morning comes very early, and I am up, just out of the shower, getting dressed, gathering up my things, already yearning for coffee and trying not to think about it, and inside my head a tune has been playing for some time now, as tunes often do. Sometimes silent, sometimes a soft, barely audible whistle. And all of a sudden I stop, suddenly recognizing the tune. It was my father’s favorite hymn, an old favorite that he sang or hummed or whistled quite often. It was called “Love lifted me.” A sweet song out of the long ago. I knew it well.

But here’s the thing. It was not and never had been my habit to sing it. In fact I thought of it quite seldom, if at all. I probably hadn’t played that tune in my head or anywhere else, or even thought of it, for at least a decade, possibly not since my father passed away – in 1966. Yet here it was, right here in my hour of concern, my held down fear, my worry. I had not said, gee, what do I do to calm myself, had not sought a comforting word. It was just there, a hand on my shoulder, a subtle reminder, a sweet presence passing by, just for a moment, just in case.

I let out that indrawn breath and breathed in just to say, "Why, thanks, Dad. I really needed that. I didn’t know it, but that’s just what I needed.” And I put on my coat, grabbed my car keys and drove off into the first glimmers of dawn, ready for the day and the news to come. The news was good and my faith in all the universes is steadfast and solid, ready to celebrate Endings, without which sweet new Beginnings would be just another day. Here’s wishing you every one the joys of finishing the tasks and journeys this year has brought you, completing your chores, staying awake until the ball drops or the screen says The End – and the gift of all the bright new beginnings yet to come. There’s no place better to begin them than these Ozarks Hills of home.