On a high desert June afternoon full of sunlight and wide blue sky, Arturo Toscanini Romero had gone out to the hammock for a nap, and he had dreamed his way right off this planet. He left Daphne Barrett Billingsworth behind.
In this one afternoon’s nap, Daphne Barrett Billingsworth had lost the love of her life to cancer. No rhyme or reason or explanation. One doctor’s visit during last year’s dark days of December had brought the unthinkable diagnosis, and then she had only six more months with her beloved Arturo.
Now in another December, Daphne Barrett Billingsworth’s step had lost its spring, and her eyes had lost their twinkle. Arturo left her behind, and she wasn’t sure that she wanted to be here.
One exceptionally cold and dark morning, the alarm went off too early. Daphne Barrett Billingsworth was reluctant to give up the visions of sugarplums that were dancing in her head, so she hit the snooze button in her brain. Ten minutes later, the crow sitting on the fence outside her window laughed, and there was no escape from the day. Daphne Barrett Billingsworth was forced to open her eyes and face the day.
The day, viewed from the window above the coffee pot, promised gray skies and snow. The color of the sky indicated that this was not going to be a festive, cheery snow that would lightly coat the evergreens and make the Christmas lights glitter happily. This was going to be the kind of snow that makes even winter people want to curse their neighbors for driving like idiots and threatening their tender bumpers.
Daphne Barrett Billingsworth stuffed herself into her heaviest coat, pulled a gloomy hat over her head, and dug through the box on the closet floor until she found her mittens. She sighed as she cracked through the ice that jammed the lock on her car door. She hummed no happy tune as she scraped the ice off her windshield.
The crow was still there on the fence watching her every move. Where did that stupid crow come from anyway? She had never seen such a large bird around her house, and on this morning, she was in no mood to make friends.
“Go away, crow. Am-scray.”
The crow made no move and did not answer.
Daphne Barrett Billingsworth looked down at her grubby driveway as she climbed into her cold car. She saw a dime, a shiny silver dime, peering back at her. She bent to pick it up. After all a dime is a dime is 10 cents. Then she remembered the dimes that had appeared to her earlier in the week.
“Odd,” she said to herself as she got into the car and turned the key to crank the cold engine.
She thought about the dime that she found sitting square in the middle of the blotter pad on her desk when she went to work last Monday morning. She remembered the dime at the foot of her bed as she was on her way to slumberland on Tuesday night. She could see in her mind’s eye the dime that came rolling down the steps straight for her as she began her ascent to the upper section of the movie theater where she went to hide in the dark on Wednesday.
Daphne Barrett Billingsworth drove on as she continued her dark and dreary way to work. She was as sad as the slate gray of the low-hanging clouds.
Then the next odd thing of the day happened. Daphne looked into her rear-view mirror and she caught a glimpse of her beloved Arturo.
He peered right back into her mirror and said, “A dime for your thoughts, Daphne Barrett Billlingsworth.”
“Arturo! Are you leaving me these dimes? What are you trying to tell me?”
“Give up the darkness, Daphne. Reclaim your place in the sun and the light. Laugh back at the crow.”
Then he was gone, as quickly as he had appeared. All day at her desk, she puzzled it out. She had started her day with a big fat crow on the fence, laughing at her. She had found another in a series of dimes. And then Arturo came for a visit and claimed responsibility for the dimes. He had given her advice, but she could see no possible future in laughing at that crow.
On her way home, the day turned even deeper into dark and cold. The low clouds had left behind a layer of fresh white snow while Daphne had been busy pondering the mysteries of her day.
As she pulled into the driveway, the crow landed on his perch on her fence. No sane bird would be out in this weather in this dark and cold air. This insane crow laughed at her for the second time that day.
Arturo’s advice was fresh in her head. She threw back that head, opened her throat, and laughed. She laughed so hard tears streamed down her cheeks and her stomach hurt. She couldn’t stop laughing and it felt shockingly good.
In this moment, Daphne Barrett Billingsworth realized that all of those religions had gotten it right. Deep into the generations, the Elders, the People of Faith, had gotten it right. Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Yule, Christmas. Something happens in the deepest, darkest days of midwinter that can only be called a miracle. On the darkest and coldest day, we celebrate the light.
Daphne Barrett Billingsworth breathed in the smell of piñon smoke, she listened to the crunch of her boots on the new snow, and she looked up at the bright stars in the clearing winter sky.
In this later moment, Daphne understood the meaning of light and dark. She realized that the dark and the light are parts of the Whole. She understood that she would laugh and take notice again.
The crow flew away into the night sky. Daphne turned in the starlight and waved goodbye. ◀