It was the Baby who brought me safely home. Mother tucked the tiny plaster figure into my hand before she left me alone, in a hospital bed. She couldn’t stay with me. A single mother with two young children had to work. So she told me Baby Jesus would look after me.
I clutched that little baby while the nurses fed and bathed me. I refused to let the doctor pry it from my fingers when he checked my lungs.
My bed was in a hospital corridor. Some of my first memories are of drab green walls and white-garbed strangers looming over me. Pneumonia had put my two-year-old self into the overcrowded hospital. Recovery kept me in bed for another two months.
From that point on I kept Baby Jesus nearby. I was sure the little figure held the magic that brought me through an illness that came close to cutting my life short. More than six decades later, I still carry around the chipped figure. Right now it lives in a cedar box beside my computer, along with a few other small treasures that help me write.
It is a talisman, and I have a need for those. I wear some of them—a turquoise necklace presented to me by my Lushootseed grandmother, a goddess pendant given to me by a loving friend. Some travel with me, as Amazing Grace did. Some are in my heart, like the story of a red lion and a poem (Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”) about accepting my own sorry self. I light candles as talismans. As they burn, I recite the names of friends in need of some kind of healing or special care.
Whether I wear them, carry them, recite or light them, I gather strength from talismans. The love of friends permeates those that came as gifts. Wisdom shoots through the words I call out of memory. Wishes for friends burn brightly in the flickering candle flames.
That little Baby Jesus is beside me as I type. It won’t break up the weight of seasonal memories sitting like an undigested lump in my chest. But the memories will lift my spirit, and that is enough.
I wish you all joy and peace during this season when gathering darkness gives way to returning light. The solstice is another talisman, a reliable reminder our lives are cyclical, moving from dark to light and back again.
Mary Oliver’s beloved poem, Wild Geese, can be found in her anthology, Dream Work. The first lines of the poem always reassure me:
You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.