The Darkest Night Of The Year

What a beautiful piece of heartache this has all turned out to be.
Lord knows we’ve learned the hard way all about healthy apathy.
And I use these words pretty loosely.
There’s so much more to life than words.
There is a me you would not recognize, dear.
Call it the shadow of myself.
And if the music starts before I get there dance without me.
You dance so gracefully.
I really think I’ll be o.k.
They’ve taken their toll these latter days.

Nothin’ like sleepin’ on a bed of nails.
Nothin’ much here but our broken dreams.
Ah, but baby if all else fails, nothin’ is ever quite what it seems.
And I’m dyin’ inside to leave you with more than just cliches.
There is a me you would not recognize, dear.
Call it the shadow of myself.
And if the music starts before I get there dance without me.
You dance so gracefully.
I really think I’ll be o.k.
They’ve taken their toll these latter days.

But tell them it’s real.
Tell them it’s really real.
I just don’t have much left to say.
They’ve taken their toll these latter days.
They’ve taken their toll these latter days.

I love the twist of irony. How can it be that I celebrate so eagerly this darkest night of this darkest year? Odd, though it seems, this is my cleansing and closure. I wonder, is this the beginning of a new chapter in my life, or the final pages of the previous chapter? Oh, it’s so hard to say, but when the final words of The Curious Destination of Christopher Dare had been penned this August, something, whatever it is (or was) was set in motion, and now I feel that vehicle that transported me is about to reach its destination. Next stop, Chattanooga? So, as the days darken and as the sun rises lower, I prepare for one of the most touching and emotional points of my life. I pack my bags to voyage to a distant town to hear the music of a band that touched my life while the Georgia heat rose around me and my heart was pulled onward as I trailed behind. If, but for a while, the banalites of school, work, and _things_ be set aside, I would fully appreciate the season which God provided a helpless crying baby who would one day save us from a fire that never extinguishes and celebrate this, the Darkest Night of the Year.

Having had my fill of malls, Santa Claus, traffic, and being swept with a hatred for the burning desire to get _things_ this Christmas, I armed myself with peace, joy, love, and humility and launched forth like some Don Quixote chasing his windmill. Packed and full my car departed, first for Chattanooga for a visit with the ghosts of past year and then on to Nashville, where new memories would sweep the old away.

I thought I’d go up Poughkeepsie,
look out o’er the Hudson,
and I’d throw my body down on the river.
And I’d know no more sorrow,
I’d fly like the sparrow
and I’d ride on the backs of the angels tonight.
I’d ride on the backs of the angels tonight.
I’d take to the sky with all my might.
No more drowning in my sorrow,
no more drowning in my fright,
I’d just ride on the backs of the angels tonight.

There are those who know sorrow
and those who must borrow
and those whose lot in life is sweet.
Well I’m drunk on self-pity,
scorned all that’s been given me,
I would drink from a bottle labeled Sure Defeat.
I’d ride on the backs of the angels tonight.
I’d take to the sky with all my might.
No more drowning in my sorrow,
no more drowning in my fright,
I’d just ride on the backs of the angels tonight.

Then the skies, they fell open
and my eyes were opened
to a world of hope falling at my feet.
Now I’ve no more or less than anyone else has,
what I have is a gift of life I can’t repeat.
So I go up Poughkeepsie,
look out o’er the Hudson
and I cast my worries to the sky.
Now I still know sorrow,
but I can fly like the sparrow
’cause I ride on the backs of the angels tonight.
I ride on the backs of the angels tonight.
I take to the sky with all their might.
No more drowning in my sorrow,
no more drowning in my fright,
I’ll just ride on the backs of the angels each night.

What is it that draws me to Chattanooga? I feel that no matter the direction I go, the compass of my heart points to this town in the edge of the mountain. Every time I see a highway sign, I confess the twinge in my heart and can’t help if the car veers in that direction, if just a moment. The rivers of the past run deep in Chattanooga, deeper than the Tennessee that cuts through the city, as they cut through my mind.

Chattanooga darts in and out of my past appearing in laughter and appearing in tears. I recall a father who took his son to see a baseball game, though he himself was no fan of the sport and how that father and son had a time together that would make all fathers and sons envious. I recall a Castle On A Hill where I saw a friend who has stood by my side since childhood and not wavered once direct and act in theatrical displays across a small stage that belied the talent that stood upon it. I recall watching a humble guitar player at that cathedral lift up his voice to his Lord as his fingers moved in a frantic dance across the fretboard. I recall hurtling up and down that hill and laughing in that Castle, laughing and laughing until our ribs hurt the next morning.

I recall a small church across from that Castle which I drove by today. There was no fog around that church today. On the Sunday I visited that church atop that mountain, the clouds and mist were so thick that I saw men and women walk in from the fog like angels who flew down from the clouds to stop and praise God Most High.

I recall a college in the valley where I made friends instantly and celebrated on a street with people I did not know at a college I’ll never attend. I saw the house and climbed the stairs and prayed for those seeking to make an impact on the souls of that school. I’ll never forget those hard workers at that University on McCallie Street.

“When Christopher climbed the mountain, he found Marimont to be the
same as it had been in his youth. The weapons of war lay scattered
about the mountain, but there were no soldiers here now, just an
occasional traveller or sightseer or two. Christopher was taken
aback that years ago the guns and cannons created a cacophany that
would deafen. Now, all sound was conspicuous by its absence.”

I recall a secret place on a hill where I ran away when I ran out of answers. I remember staring at the city below and being cut by a bitter wind and wondering if I could ever pull myself out of the mire I had sunk into. I recall reading the stories of a war and being unable to comprehend how we can have such anger when our lives are only brief, flickering flames. I recall the dread that filled my heart when I knew I had to return to stare down my crisis in the eyes.


thank you my angel
for blessing me
with these words and for giving me
what I was hungry for
a taste of dirt
from the floor of heaven
thank you my angel
for cutting off my hands
forbidding me
to trace the lines of this miracle
across the great divide
for making love a foreign language
thank you my angel
for fluttering
out my window for telling me
all those lies about myself
it was your way of bandaging the bleeding
thank you my angel
for the clutter of my life
for dragging me
to the edge of the wilderness
to lie by myself just outside the land of promise
thank you my angel

I returned to that spot today. I found myself having trouble again as That Lump returned to my throat. The ocean wave of the past crashed over me as I stood there in silence and stared at that same city below as the entire world slowed to a pause. I saw the same city, but now I could make out all the details. There was no cloud, no fog, no haze, just the air I breathe between me and the city. It feels good to see this clearly again. Forgive me, Father. I gaze back all too often on my burning city and behold it. You are gracious for sparing me the pillar of salt.

“Christopher looked down at his feet. ‘When all of this is over…’
He paused. ‘…will I be able to return to Marimont?’

‘Perhaps’, the man answered, ‘but you cannont stay in Marimont’,
he stopped himself, ‘not now.’

Christopher’s heart was heavy, ‘It is time to leave, correct?’

The man nodded, ‘This will mark a new era in your life, Christopher.’

‘I like the old era.’, Christopher grumbled under his breath.”

But while Chattanooga is a balm to soothe the cuts and wounds, Nashville is not and never will be. Nashville is about today and now. So, I close the door and depart since my season is far from complete. I ponder, when Christopher Dare stepped into infinity, had he learned his lesson? I’d hazard to say no. (Which brings us to an even more important question, has the author learned that lesson?) Goodbye, Chattanooga. With grace, perhaps I will return, but this Darkest Season has yet to complete.

(Don’t be bothered, no.)
Don’t be bothered by the fears.
I’ll try to bottle them like my mother’s perfume.
She wore it only on Sunday,
kept it safe in her room in a chest with a key.
We found it anyway.

Don’t be bothered by the fears.
They’ll only join us like the sky that blushes red tonight.
And makes the wind die down,
calms the troubled sea
(more out of duty than pleasure, but out of pleasure nonetheless.)

Your fire burns me like a favorite song.
A song I should have known all along.
I feel you move like smoke in my eyes.
And that is why.
Don’t be bothered by the fears that sing
from my eyes like carillon
ringing only on Sunday
on the roof down our street
finally Over the River.
Ring for you, ring for me,
finally, forever.
It’s just I never, it’s just I never thought,
I never thought that I could be this free.

When I closed the car door, I lost my breath. There in that hamlet called Smyrna, the stars were beautiful. I saw the Planets, lined up like a cosmic connect-the-dots drawing. Venus was so bright that I almost shielded my eyes and Mars shone a deep red. Even Jupiter and Saturn caught my attention and I wondered just how fortunate I was to see so many celestial bodies all at one time. I stood there for a moment and watched my breath cloud in front of me and let this Dark Night soak into me. Not a moment would be wasted, this was all too much to let pass by.

Cast Me Away

Cast me away
From yesterday’s things
In deed and in my memory

Sweeten the taste
Of the past, of the past
And borrow just a little more time
For me

12/16/97 Nashville is vivid, moving, and becomes bored quickly if you don’t keep it entertained. We wandered in and out of that city, a friend and I. Shops that thrived weren’t there anymore and places I’d never heard of stood on streets I forgot to take and I never could find that little coffee shop. Still, I was not dismayed (how can you be? You might miss the next Exciting Thing that seems to come through town every couple of minutes.) I stood under a train and felt the ground shake my body as the train passed overhead. I ran my hands across a Fender Bass and a Gibson Les Paul at a world famous guitar shop, and I still couldn’t find that insipid little coffee shop! I visited a friend still studying for her finals and recalled all too well the sad state she was in. At that moment, I remembered the joy that I used to get from visiting some in the midst of a struggle and not doing anything but just being there. How much I enjoyed seeing her cheer resulting from the diversion from the drudgery of school work. Sure, I delayed her studies for an hour, (and certainly didn’t provide any answers to her tests!), but I’ll gamble the smile stayed on her face just a little longer today. God, I have been so selfish in this last season. May I experience more joy from giving in the next.

Sometimes I like to stick my fingers
where they don’t belong.
Sometimes I like to fake a fever
and just stay home.
‘Cause we smile in here
we don’t get too close to sadness.
‘Cause what’s holding us
is just about to break.
Ain’t it funny how life can drag behind us
just like so much dead weight.

Sometimes what feels like pretty good music
is just the same old song.
Sometimes we deal with bygone bruises
and find it’s been too long.
But we laugh in here
we don’t get too close to sadness.
We know good enough
is a thousand miles from grace.
Ain’t it funny how life can drag behind us
just like so much dead weight.

And my hometown train
is pulling from the station.
And I know for once
I really will be late.
And I’ll dream that we can leave the past behind us
just like so much dead weight.
Sometimes I like to stick my fingers
where they don’t belong.

After reaching Caffe Milano, I caught up with a high-school friend as she took me to a past I recall with a smile when I cast shadows on a stage that no longer exists and stood in a limelight that is surely no longer there. The time for the past has come and gone, though, and the Darkest Night of Year is here! Karin, Linford, Terri, Brian, Jack, and Mike have stepped onto the stage. There, with candles lit across an oriental-rug laden stage with a decorated and lit Christmas tree in a corner, a tapestry of music was woven within arms reach of my table as I dined. (Just how did I get seats this close, anyway?)

Latter Days-
Faithfully Dangerous –
“Let the whole world drift downstream. We’ll always be different.”
The Seahorse –
Sadly, I never got to see the band with Ric Hordinski. The new
guitarist, Jack Henderson plays a Gretch with liberal use of the
tremelo bar. Tasteful with just a bit of an edge. Beautiful.
Little Blue River-
All I Need is Everything –
” All I need is everything. Feel the slip and the grip of grace again.”
Etcetera, Whatever-
“… courage is a weapon we must use to find some life you can’t
Everyman’s Daughter –
Karin’s plaintive cry “Who do you think I am?” made my heart jump
and covered me with goose bumps. Simply amazing.
The first highlight of the evening and what a wonderful highlight.
Mary’s Waltz-
Karin and Linford remained on the stage as everyone else left.
What a joy it was watching those two sneak glances at each other
like shy grade school children in love.
Silent Night-
The band returned and Terri sang with Karin in a duet much like the
version on the album. The goosebumps returned and stayed for a
Thank You, My Angel-
Jack’s Valentine-
Linford is so entertaining to watch! He looks at everything with
the eyes and grin of a child discovering everything for the first time.
Perhaps that’s why I enjoy his writing so much as it reflects that

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
Karin and Linford again. The bass solo was done instead on a
piano patch on Linford’s keyboard.
I smiled and mouthed the word at the first note. How this song
moves me with its ending of hope.
The full band performs the song. Simply stunning. By now, my
grin was a full out beaming smile. I was living these songs.

Instead of an extended ending, the song ended abruptly much like
the version on _Besides_ and the band members left the crowd,
which was subdued the entire evening but was now quite rowdy,
with a mischevious grin and a wave good-bye.

Some classics (Like Paul and Virginia!) were missing. I missed “If I’m Drowning”, but some curveballs thrown into the setlist (such as “Everyman’s Daughter”) made up for it. I had also hoped for more Christmas hymns, but one can’t have it all. All in all, magificent.

We applauded two encores and long after they left. Then, we returned into the Nashville night. The band would continue north to go home to Emery Theatre for their celebration of the actual Darkest Night of the Year, but for me, this had been my Darkest Night. The memories and broken promises of Christmas Past could now be laid to rest forever by an experience that will forever linger in my mind and be lovingly recalled by a poster on my wall. Christmas could now be truly celebrated and embraced with a peace in the present. A gracious host, a beautiful city, and a small band from Cincinnati moved me into the next step of healing and opening the next chapter of my life.

The days only become brighter from here.

Jeff Holland, 12/16/97

All prose by Jeff Holland. Quotations from _The Curious Destination of Christopher Dare_ by Jeff Holland. Song lyrics from Over the Rhine, written by Karin Berquist and Linford Detweiler.