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Cherish the moments of sweet peace this holiday season

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 9:00 p.m.

We direct our wide eyes at Christmas to the lights. Lights on the tree, candles, lights on our downtown streets, all touch us.

But much of my Christmas memories have also to do with the night and the darkness of winter in general.

At the risk of appearing philosophical, one cannot appreciate the light without the dark and vice versa. Such contrasts tell us much about life.

One of my favorite things to do during a holiday family gathering, when the house is buzzing with conversation and laughter, with children and adults, with good food and drink and gift-giving, is to take a few moments to step outside into the chill night air.

As a boy, I would do that, step onto the backyard patio, and with the houses and apartment buildings all around simply look up and take in the cool air.

The breath is important because it brings with it silence, lowers your heart beat, blows “away the fumes” as some say. In those moments it was almost as though I was surrounded not just by the darkness of the night but by the light of love ­— or at least I hoped love — glowing from the many household windows about me.

Perhaps the glow was simply from a nightlight, maybe the family was asleep or not even home. Maybe it was the light of a TV and someone was watching alone. But in an odd way it gave me a sense of our connectedness on that holiday night and an unarticulated prayer for the happiness of us all.

I had the same sense on those nights between Christmas and New Year's Day when I would travel across the city with my father. Late at night returning home from his job as manager of a movie theater I would sit silently in the passenger seat, watching the passing of the towns along the parkway and thinking about the thousands of people snug in their homes. On city streets I would see a lone soul, perhaps carrying a bag from a grocery store, waiting at a bus stop and hope he or she appreciated the value of his or her life, because in my young mind I thought that was the meaning of the holiday.

Holidays are a serious of moments, not necessarily connected and despite all of the planning, not always planned.

I recollect a time in my 20s when a small group of us left our warm homes on a snowy day and went sled riding at a golf course. I don't remember which one.

But the scene is in my head as vividly as if it were yesterday. I am atop the hill from which we were riding and I happened to be standing alone, the others having gone down. I look over the landscape and I spotted what was a small wooden church. Dark was approaching but there was enough soft gray light to see the church.

As I stood there the church began to play music, recorded music I presume, of a Christmas carol. I thought: No one would believe this, and sometimes I still have my own doubts. But it was a moment of peace, and I obviously still cherish it.

Like the light and the dark, Christmas is a time of contrasts, hustle and quiet, happiness and the bitter sweetness that the passage of time wroughts.

The quiet times are -- at least in my opinion -- necessary to the appreciation of the time, whether the time is found quietly while waiting on a night street for a bus, sitting alone watching TV or reading, stepping out under the night sky or simply hugging a child who is excited about a gift.

Take a breath. Enjoy!

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to Meandering will not appear next week, but will return Dec. 21.

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