Candles and Community

The top of the wood stove is perfect for making quesadillas!

The top of the wood stove is perfect for making quesadillas!

The house is cold at dawn.

I wake and build the fires.

The ground is white with snow.

from “IV,” Wendell Berry

On the night our daughter is supposed to be born (the “supposed to” determined by an oh-so-precise countdown that started way back in February), we have no electricity at Snoqualmie Pass. We’re actually more than 24 hours into a power outage, since yesterday saw one of the more vicious storms in memory, a storm that took away not only our lights, but those of over 300,000 others in our region.

Yesterday we sat inside and prayed that we wouldn’t have to drive through the tree-felling, road-saturating tempest, 35 miles “down the mountain” to the hospital. Today calm, grey light reflects off of new snow and brightens our house during the daytime. Except for the lack of hot water and Internet, and the pitifully room-temperature refrigerator, we’re not so bothered by the lack of power in the daytime.

Night is different. It gets dark at 4:30 PM these days, so at four I leave behind the Wendell Berry I was reading by the dusk in the window, and light a fire and half a dozen lanterns. My mother arrives a few minutes later with pots of soup from Grandma’s apartment downstairs, where they’d been thawing on top of her stove. She sets them now on the flat top of our wood stove to boil, while Timmy goes to the back deck to grill sausages.

At five, two neighbors arrive, stamping snow off their boots downstairs and then crowing delightedly at the warmth that our stove has provided. One shares harrowing tales of his own house, where it’s 53˚ F inside and his dog and cat sleep with him under the covers. “So warm!” he marvels, stretching out his hands over the glowing orange door of the stove. While we wait for the soup, we nibble on pretzels re-toasted on the barbecue, swap stories of the last two dark days and forecasts of when we’ll return to the 21st century. They spy me, still roundly bulky in the candlelight, and advise that I should “just relax. Babies come when they want to. Just be relaxed, Kristi.”

The truth is, I am relaxed, at rest as we break bread (and soup and sausages) with our neighbors, basking in the familiar warmth of community. Somehow, without my expecting or inviting it, community became a theme of the last five years. Though the process has been gradual, I’m amazed when I remember the studiously reserved and self-sufficient teacher that left the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 2010. I could take care of myself, I thought then, and I was happy to do so for as long as was necessary. Community–the village life that I skirted by being comparatively wealthy and urban–was undoubtedly difficult. It meant sharing life with people different than I, meant depending on some of those people for more than amusement.

And then I became a missionary, connected by relational and financial bonds to a wide range of people, all around the world. I moved to a literal village, where I lived without a car and had to rely on others for rides to the airport and hospital. I ran into my students and coworkers around every corner, and realized that even if I thought of myself as an island, no amount of self-reliance could make it so. So I joined a choir and a women’s Bible Study, and dared to date and marry my husband in full view of my village. Our home became a gathering place, where we shared meals like this candlelit one. I never expected it, this extravagant community, but I needed it. We all do.

It's also ideal for pancake-making!

It’s also ideal for pancake-making!

This little mountain road, flanked with snow and just a few houses, is a new village. I’m still learning community, this time from my parents, who are the kind of people who clean out their refrigerator (and freezer!) and invite the neighbors over for an impromptu candlelit dinner. I feel fortunate to be here, amazed and delighted that this will be Luci’s first home.

Our culture is an individual one, where it’s easy to long for space or independence, financial security or the peculiar brand of “I can do it myself” that defined my early twenties. And then the power goes out and our batteries die, and around a glowing table laden with soup, sausage and bread we share stories and laughter, brightening the early dark.

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