Seeing the Light

December 03, 2015

This candle cradled in the hands of a young child and and an adult was photographed about 20 years ago for a seasonal card encouraging support of local charities through the Herald's "Giving Good Gifts Holiday Appeal." Cameron Pattison of Brookfield and Herald editor/publisher M.D. Drysdale posed for the image at First Light Studios next door to the newspaper's Pleasant Street offices in Randolph. (Herald File / Bob Eddy)

The 1940s movie classic “Citizen Kane” depicts a titan of newspaper publishing, fulfilling and destroying the aspirations of thousands, wielding influence around the world.

My reflections in the next few paragraphs will spoil the movie for those who have not yet watched it. To avoid this, simply skip this next bit entitled, “Citizen Kane.”

Citizen Kane

The movie begins at the very end of Kane’s life. Living in isolation, surrounded by unparalleled yet decaying opulence, Kane drops a small snow globe, breaking it on the floor, as he dies. One word, “rosebud,” is whispered as the camera pans to the globe, slipping from his grasp. Snow swirling in a Currier and Ives depiction of a small village at Christmastime seems to swirl, too, about the dying man.

The movie is a gloriously complex flashback from that death scene, exploring Kane’s life-long accumulation of wealth and power.

What, the movie asks, is the meaning of Kane’s dying utterance, “rosebud?”

At the end, forced to conclude the world will never know the answer to this question, we are led through the mansion as countless treasures are packed and crated for museums and auction. Descending to the basement we see things of negligible value being tossed into a furnace. A small sled is cast onto the fire. The flames rise around a hand-painted decoration on the sled’s surface; a rosebud.

Only then do we remember Kane as a very young boy sledding in solitary reverie outside his childhood home. As snow gently falls, that boy is led, uncomprehendingly, away from that place, to be raised amidst unimaginable wealth and splendor.

 

At the end, in the heart of this great man, is still the pulse and memory of the young boy sledding a lifetime ago. Of all possible contemplations at his time of passing, he remembers this moment, this child deep within. This memory is, at the last, more precious than gold. 

A Dark Time

This dark side of the year, the sweep of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a time like no other. Here in Vermont, we find ourselves eating breakfast and dinner with night sky at the window. The lowering sun seems to be setting as we finish a late lunch! Lights from street poles and front porches punctuate the darkness as we navigate icy roads in freezing cars to make our way home.

Five months ago, we were mowing the lawn after 8; now we’re thinking about turning in for a good book and bed by 7!

One wintry day 20 years ago, I was tasked with creating an image to evoke the preciousness of this season. I could find no better subject for my camera than the simple light from one candle.

Joseph Campbell once reflected that the great myths are true, “not because they tell of that which happened at one point in time, but because they tell of that which happens again and again.” And so, in many cultures about the world, in varied ways, we find celebration of the light in the midst of winter’s darkness.

Some celebrate this darkest time of the year, with bonfires and the burning of a Yule logs that turn thoughts from the year past to the one that is coming. Others light sacred candles of Hanukkah, rejoicing in the miracle of a small cruise of oil, sustaining God’s hope in the darkness. Many prepare in these darkening days for a star shining in the night that will lead us in ways of Peace.

One Candle, One Life

Here in this image we find a candle held by a young child, whose hands are, in turn, cradled by an adult’s hands. The scene is deceptively simple. The source of all the light is visible at the heart of the image. Deep darkness surrounds at the edge of the scene.

What do you behold here? Perhaps you see the hands of an elder, caring for a child as, together, they experience the quiet beauty of a candle.

Or, is it possible, that here we find a symbolic representation of one older person cradling the flame? The younger being is there, deep within each of us as we age. Our reflection, is not simply, then, upon the candle flame, but upon the light within, embodied by a child.

In this season, as we light candles in the darkness and consider their meaning, I hope you will remember this child within. May this contemplation, this encounter, be a blessing.

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