Herb Rothschild Jr.: Season of lights
Lately my holiday season has been bracketed by two parades — Ashland’s the evening of the day after Thanksgiving and Pasadena’s on New Year’s morning. The Rose Parade is the grandest of all. So far I’ve viewed it only on television. Deborah spent her high school years in San Marino, so it was a part of her youth. Each year I tell her we should go down to view it. I, whose pleasure in tending my garden is second only to being with her, know I’ll delight in seeing those gorgeous floats up close. Maybe in 2017, while the flowers still bloom.
Ashland’s parade, by comparison, is a paltry affair. Blessedly, it soon passes, and we fall in behind it to walk toward the Plaza. This year the weather is splendid — a clear night and just cold enough to feel cozy in our down outerwear.
The Plaza is a fine space, even with the unhappy reworking of its open space. But the darkness shrouds that misstep, and when the lights come on, bringing forward the backdrop of restaurants and shops, the season begins again.
In fall 2007 one of Deborah’s endeavors was causing her considerable stress, so I arranged for us to spend a few days before and after New Year’s Eve in Paris. One afternoon we went to Musée de L’Orangerie, originally built to shelter the orange trees of the nearby Tuileries Garden during the winter, but long since a tourist destination because of its two oval rooms displaying the immense and magnificent Monet paintings of his water garden at Giverny.
We weren’t aware of how long we stayed in the museum. When we exited, night had already fallen, and we were awe-struck by the lights. First we saw the ones outlining the giant Ferris wheel at the end of the Tuileries Garden. Next we saw the ones sparkling in the trees marching down both sides of the Champs Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe in the distance, flooded with light. It was a magical sight, made more so because it caught us by surprise.
Like its music, its lights bring the holiday season to life. They don’t dispel the darkness, but warm it and mate with it and make it welcoming.
Early in Canto XXVI of "Inferno," as Dante the pilgrim looks down at the flames flickering in the next grim pit, the poet offers a surprisingly positive image to help us imagine how the scene first appears to the pilgrim:
As many fireflies as the peasant sees
when he rests on a hill and looks into the valley
where he tills or gathers grapes or prunes his trees ...
Such myriads of flames I saw shine through
the gloom of the eighth abyss when I arrived
at the rim from which its bed comes into view.
There, in the midst of hell, comes a momentary vision of a life-giving world where we belong, of homecoming.
This Advent season arrives amid the dreadful and dreadfully commonplace violence that so often claims my attention in this column because we cannot be peacemakers if we ignore it. But we cannot be peacemakers if we have no vision of an alternative world, one of kindness and love and joy.
The two parades mark the start and end of my holidays now. But ah, Deborah, it’s you who makes the season bright.
Herb Rothschild Jr. is chairman of the board of Peace House.