In the season’s darkness, let your light shine

early snow
What’s wrong with this picture?

By Bruce Stambaugh

Residents of northeast Ohio have now tasted both the Thanksgiving Day turkey and the season’s first snow. The holidays are indeed upon us.

As we prepare to head into the year’s final month, holiday lights twinkle inside and outside homes and businesses alike. Even without radiating any substantial heat, they warm hearts nevertheless.

Most holidays in December focus their celebration around the theme of light just as the daylight diminishes. The days are in fact the shortest of the year.

Advent candles
Advent candles.
I’ve always found it more than a bit ironic that in the darkest part of the year, our secular and religious holidays glow with light. In fact, these important days gather together as if they were competing for our attention as the calendar year draws to an end.

Given the state of the world today, these celebrations of light are just what the doctor ordered. Earth’s inhabitants need as much light at they can get.

It’s only fitting that the major celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, and the winter solstice all squeeze together in late December. It’s like a hidden magnet pulling them into the light itself. I don’t mean to be too jocular about these simultaneous celebrations. Just the opposite is true.

Christians consider Advent, the weeks leading up to and just after Christmas Day, as holy, sacred, magical. My Jewish friends rightly believe the same about Hanukkah.

Those who celebrate the winter solstice as Yule have a practical reason for making merry. From that point forward, daylight increases little by little each day.

It’s all very human of us to acknowledge the importance of light in our lives just when we have the least of it. Doing so gives us hope in the midst of darkness.

Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival also known as the Festival of Lights. One candle is lighted each day on the nine-candle menorah. Hanukkah means rededication and annually commemorates the Jewish struggle for religious freedom.

Chrismtas drama
Star over Bethlehem.
Christmas also is a commemoration. Lights of many kinds fill its traditions. The star in the east that hovered over Bethlehem, birthplace of the Christ child, is reflected on Christmas cards, and in displays, plays, poems, stories, and musicals.

Candle lighting services, often held on Christmas Eve, symbolize the birth of Jesus, the Christians’ declaration of the true light of life. In fact, four churches in Millersburg, Ohio will hold a Candlelight Walk on the evening of December 9 to help usher in the season.

My energetic wife had the electric candles glowing in our windows even before Thanksgiving this year. Illuminating each window with candles is a tradition we’ve had for our 45 years together.

In fact, one Christmas long ago our young daughter wouldn’t let us take down the candle in her bedroom window. When I shared in church about Carrie’s insistence, our late friend and resident poet Lorie Gooding wrote a poem about it. To my knowledge, this is the first publication of that poem.

Carrie’s Candle

I have a candle. It is mine.
I like to watch my candle shine.
It was a light for Christmas cheer.
But I’m going to keep it all the year.
Then when the darkness comes at night,
I’m going to watch my little light.
My good daddy and my pretty mother
Smile at my candle. So does my baby brother.
The light is for everyone to see.
But the little candle belongs to me.

Lorie Gooding

My wish for all of you this holiday season is that the light shines brightly in your lives wherever you may be.

sunrise, Amish farm
Morning light.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

sunrise, Holmes Co. OH
Morning Glory.

Yesterday’s sunrise was a beauty here in Ohio’s Amish country. It truly was a glorious morning.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

“Morning Glory” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Make any day a good day

osage orange tree
West of Winesburg.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I had driven this route many times in the past. Usually, it started in the early morning twilight and ended in the glare of the afternoon sun, if I didn’t have a meeting after school.

I served as principal at two of the nicest elementary schools anyone could hope for or conjure. I loved my job at Mt. Hope and Winesburg schools.

An emotional funk had overtaken me, and I needed a spiritual pick me up. Those former school days mentally surfaced, so I called the man who had replaced me 17 years ago. Dan was more than happy to show me around the schools where I once whistled my way down the halls. It had been years since I last graced them.

With our impending move to Virginia set for next spring, I knew I needed to start reconnecting with folks and places that had played such important roles in my life, professionally and personally. The schools were on that list.

That’s how I came to retrace the roads I took for 21 years every school day. I knew every turn, hill, and valley.

Amish buggy, autumn
Along the road.
I made Mt. Hope my first stop. Dan greeted me at the front door after I pushed the security buzzer, a necessary addition since the Nickel Mines shooting 10 years ago in Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania.

Dan escorted me around the building that I knew so well. Physically, not much had changed. The staff and pupils, however, had. I soon found familiarity and links to the past.

Dan asked the students in each class how many of their parents had gone to Mt. Hope School. I was astonished at how many hands flew up. We went pupil by pupil to see if I could remember their folks.

To my amazement, and theirs as well, I remembered their parents and grandparents, where they lived, and even a few first names. When the school is full of Yoders and Millers, that’s not an easy task.

My reunions with Jerry the librarian, Jim the teacher, and Nettie the cook brought smiles to my face, stirred my soul and filled me with compassion for their career commitments to nurturing children.

My age hit me square in the face when I met the custodian of both schools, Brandon, a former student. He was too busy to talk much, but his handshake spoke volumes. The school sparkled as brightly as his eyes.

Holmes Co. OH
A view around every turn.
More memories resurfaced while driving the five miles between Mt. Hope and Winesburg. There still is no bar or golf course in between. The road was still bumpy, the views still pristine. Corn shocks stood in the same fields they had all those years ago.

At Winesburg, I found the school just as clean and hospitable as Mt. Hope. I was glad to see many of the same staff members I had worked with and hired before I retired. We hugged and shared heartfelt recollections.

The storyline with the students also repeated. The eagerness of the youngsters to name their parents buoyed me. Some I identified by family name just from their physical features. When a student said who her mother was, I said, “Oh, yes. I remember. Carie with one “r.” I’ll never forget the beam on that young face.

This uplifting experience had been a morning to remember for me. All this human interaction freed me from my gloominess. It gave me hope that any day, no matter how trying, can be a good day.

I just had to take the initiative. The children and friends did the rest.

sunrise, Ohio's Amish Country
A new dawn.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

November’s Super Full Moon

November 2016, super full moon
November’s Super Full Moon.

November’s Super Full Moon had a lot going for it. It was the biggest, closest, and brightest super full moon since January 26, 1948. I don’t remember that of course since I was a little more than a month old then. Besides, I doubt my mother bothered to take me outside to look at it on a cold, Ohio January night.

When this moon was exactly full, it was already below the horizon in Ohio. I decided to shoot the super full moon before it sank below the western horizon. I’m glad I did because as you can see in this photo, clouds and fog lingered in the west.

“November’s Super Full Moon” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Fickle fall foments melancholy mood

falling leaves, autumn
Office view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

A day after I cleaned up the leaves from our yard, the rain, the wind, and gravity conspired to undo my work. It was to be expected, especially when a grove of deciduous trees surrounds your house.

I sat by the office window and watched the spent leaves rain down like snow showers in January. A gusty northwest breeze twirled the faded leaves every which way, performing independent pirouettes in a splendid ballet. Their curtain call played out on the front lawn.

I’ve seen this performance before of course. Every year about this time. However, this fall’s frolic struck anew at the melancholy that I felt about the scene, the season, my station in life.

Perhaps the steely sky with its dense layer of leaden clouds set the mood for the day. It couldn’t have been the Indians loss in the seventh game of the World Series or the lack of sleep from watching the previous week’s worth of late-night contests. When you’re a Cleveland sports fan, denial is an all-consuming trait that blinds and dulls one’s wits.

Yet, here I was in my stupor enjoying the unfolding act, blah as the elements were. The living picture painted before me seemed just about right for the occasion, and definitely for the season.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hung over from too much adrenaline-driven loyalty and sleep deprivation. However, I couldn’t help but sense that my malaise was so much more than that.

Seasonal changes do that to us, especially as we age. Like the falling colorful leaves, the Greatest Generation is also fading fast. They bequeath their burdens to their progeny, unworthy boomers who think they have changed the world for the better when it’s clearly the other way around.

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Perhaps it was because my wife was still fulfilling her autumnal obligations in Virginia. Only the delicious day before I had taken lunch and supper alone on the porch. I missed her company and her cooking.

The blustery day wore on as dreary days can do. But in the process, a slow metamorphosis transpired. I would have noticed it earlier had it not been for my manly self-pity.

Patches of blue began to divide the gray cotton rolls roiling overhead. Even the wind subsided, providing an intermission to the leafy operetta. I began to take notice, to think outside myself, to seek the wisdom of others through writings and paintings and photos.

I called my friend Dan, who only recently had lost his father. I had missed the viewing and wanted to visit to express my sympathies. He invited me up to his place in the early evening, which I accepted.

Dan wanted me to arrive about an hour before I showed up. I wanted to shoot the sunset first. The sky had significantly cleared by early evening except for a few high clouds, the kind that often makes for a splendid sunset. Just when I thought the western drama had waned, a fiery encore danced across the sky.

I stopped the car just a quarter of a mile from Dan’s. His observant wife Anna saw the vehicle and figured it must be me. It’s a good feeling when your friends know you so well. They welcomed me into their humble home, and I gleefully shared my photos.

When the clock struck 8, I knew it was time to leave. Otherwise, I’d likely still be there, conversing and listening and laughing, though life had fallen heavy upon us like the morning’s leaves waltzing to the grass.

melancholy sunset
Fiery enchore.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Autumn Morning

autumn pond reflections
Autumn morning.

Bathed by the sun one frosty early morning, little wisps of fog accented a sugar maple’s reflection in a farm pond. If you click on the photo, you can see a lone male mallard floating along.

“Autumn Morning” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Living in consideration of others

2016 World Series
Standing.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There we were, my four friends and I, fortunate to be among the thousands in attendance at Game 1 of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians.

I wish you could have seen us. I wish you all could have been there, too.

It was a dream World Series to be sure. The Cubs played the Indians in a battle between the two most title deficient teams in Major League Baseball. And we got to witness it. Well, mostly we did.

Joe and his son Jesse saw the game just fine from the mezzanine high in right field. Even though we had better seats than them, it was a different story for Kurt, Tim, and me. I was ever so grateful to be able to secure prime seats a dozen rows up from the Indians dugout. Don’t ask how. Just know I didn’t steal them.

Despite our excellent seats, much of the time we had trouble seeing what was happening on the field. Two guys three rows in front of us insisted on standing for most of the game.

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I felt like I was at the old cavernous Municipal Stadium with obstructed view seats, looking around old steel girders trying to see. Instead, these two middle-aged men stood. It’s the World Series they said. You’re supposed to stand.

Several fans and Indians staff members tried numerous times to persuade these two men to sit down. Still, the men stood. One person even kindly pointed out to the two human pillars that most of the folks sitting behind them were older, and didn’t have the stamina to stand that long.

The men were unfazed. It’s the World Series they reiterated. Between innings, they even taunted the people immediately around them. My friends and I just looked at one another in bewilderment. Kurt thought these men needed a lot of attention, and I had to agree.

On the way up to the game, our vanload of Tribe testosterone relished this glorious opportunity. Avid baseball fans all, we each agreed that is was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As we neared the stadium, the excitement increased. Fans crowded the sidewalks. Between the Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavaliers were getting their championship rings, and the Indians Progressive Field, thousands of revelers milled around on the Gateway Plaza. The excitement was electric.

The Indians gave its standing room only crowd much to cheer about, winning 6 – 0. My friends and I indeed had a marvelous time that neither us may have again. The misbehavior of the pair of baseball statues couldn’t deter our enjoyment.

RTA, rapid transit
Happy to be on the train.
In this childish behavior of two adult men, there was a universal lesson to be learned. Be considerate of others wherever you are. Apparently, these two bullies hadn’t yet taken that class.

I thought about how others had shown kindness to us in the crush of the crowd. Police officers, passengers on the commuter train, other drivers in snarled traffic, and the ushers at the game all were considerate to us in giving directions, assistance when needed, and simply being courteous.

In a way, I was sad for these two men who couldn’t see the negative consequences of their selfish actions. Still, far greater injustices exist all around us that deserve our utmost consideration and attention.

In our coming and going in everyday life, we each have multiple opportunities to be considerate and compassionate to others. Sometimes we just need to sit down to see them.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Lost in Lost River

abandoned building, Lost River WV
Abandoned.

I came across this abandoned building in Lost River, WV. I couldn’t help but note the irony. This once impressive structure now stood abandoned, indeed, even fenced in only a few feet from the banks of the Lost River. As I marveled at its weathered beauty, I wondered about its original purpose. Was it a store, a residence, or some combination?

A close look revealed that the clapboard framed building had most recently been used as a barn, noting the rotting straw in the missing siding. The former entrance was boarded up and fenced off by newly strung barbed wire. Both its history and utilitarian purpose seemed lost. And yet, its stark beauty was alluring, especially given the setting.

Perhaps I’m too sentimental. But I both admire and marvel at structures like this one. What stories does it hold? What social function did it fulfill? Will the answers forever be lost in the little crossroads burg of Lost River, WV?

“Lost in Lost River” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016