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CANDLES AND QUIET VOICES
December 10, 2003
 
I have ladies coming on Thursday - the Quiet Hour Club meets at my house for its Christmas meeting this year. This is not one of those let-me-bring-a-casserole events. It's a would-you-be-good-enough-to-pour? event: I get out almost every silver teapot and coffee pot I own, which is a fair number. I buy sugar lumps. I make hundreds of cookies and have Q the Samurai Warrior slice me pieces of fruitcake thin enough to see through.

A few of the ladies will come early to be sure I haven't collapsed into the ganache. This is kind of them. They did this last time, too, came early to help. Carol Towt was one of those motherly helpers last time, but she won't be with us tomorrow, not physically, anyway: we lost her two years ago. Another lady's husband just died this past week. A telephone tree notifies people when such things happen, and they happen more and more frequently.

The Quiet Hour Club is now over a hundred years old. It was begun by ladies in Metuchen who wanted to keep their minds sharp while their lives were taken up with child-raising and husband-pleasing. Clubs like it were formed all across the country. Each year, a topic is chosen, and members prepare and read papers on some aspect of it, two papers at each meeting. What's the topic this year? Q asks, as I press Lemon Square batter into a jelly roll pan. I forget, I say.

Only one paper tomorrow; the rest of the program time will be taken up with carol singing. This is a sweet thing, the women's voices combining in the old songs. Many of these ladies are formidable choir singers in their churches. We sound wonderful when we sing, once a year.

The tree will not yet be up, but there should be signs of Christmas around the house. I have some thoughts: some evergreens on the mantel, a few poinsettias, a bowl of shiny Christmas ornaments, some bayberry candles.

The living room looks nice: no piles of paper anywhere. But there are three large cardboard boxes stashed behind the couch. They arrived a month ago and are waiting for this Sunday, when we'll take them with us to the Compassionate Friends meeting. The December meeting is always a candle-lighting service in memory of our children who have died. The boxes contain a hundred glass votive holders, to be given to the parents to take home. Lighting candles thisles this Sunday will be a worldwide thing: the official hour is 7pm. In a church or at a meeting or in your home all alone, you can light a candle and remember. Not that you are likely ever to forget.

The living room will be full of chairs for the Quiet Hour meeting. I'll take the boxes of candle holders and put them in the trunk during the meeting. Q has scraped every last bit of snow off the walk, so that nobody falls; some of our members have trouble walking. Many have trouble with stairs: we'll put the little heater on in the outhouse -- our name for our little unheated downstairs bathroom off the cold pantry -- so the ones who can't make it upstairs don't have to freeze. It's cold out there.

It was cold in people's houses when the Club was new. 1895 -- not everyone had central heating. This house didn't. Much has changed in people's lives since then, but some things are still the same. People still live and die, and they still treasure each other while they are alive. Children still die sometimes, not as often as they did then, but it still happens. People still haven't figured out what to say to the parents when it happens: they are so stunned at the realization that such a thing can happen, that it could have happened to them, that it might happen to them. Sometimes that sudden realization makes them afraid to approach, and so they stay away. Or they do come, but talk too gaily and for too long about the weather before realizing that they're chattering, and then they subside into the first intelligent thing they've offered during the visit: silence and presence. There really is nothing to say.

All you can do is all you have to do: just be there. Women still help each other get along in life, help each other beautifully. Quietly. Pour a cup of tea and do the dishes. Pack up the leftover cookies. Water the forgotten houseplants. Heat up some soup. Run over to the school and pick up the kids. Beautifully.


For more information about Sunday's Candle-Lighting, and about The Compassionate Friends, go to www.compassionatefriends.org

To order the book Quiet Voices: Reflections of Contemporary Women, which contains both a foreword and an essay by Barbara Crafton, go to: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/073881850X/qid=1071063083/sr=1-3/ref=sr_1_3/102-4328038-7720108?v=glance&s=books
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