Illuminate: Finding My Way Gently Into 2021

Posted on January 15, 2021 by

This is the first year I’ve put away Christmas in stages. The last to go, finally, is the mantel. It’s the lights, really that I can’t seem to take down. They illuminate and comfort me during these early grey January mornings.

This year I figured out that I could simultaneously set a timer to light the room at dawn AND dusk – a way to welcome the day and say goodbye to the evening. It was honestly game-changing, something so simple and obvious that truly allowed me to see my way into and out of the day.

To close 2020, I also added a new wreath to brighten the front door, although not many come through it these days. Battery operated white lights on the front trees, and even solar twinkle lights on the bare bushes near the driveway were all my small attempts at lighting up such a dark year. A way to say hello to 2021, wishing for more light, more joy; a way to remember that all hope is not lost.

2020 forced a profound dive into the deepest parts of my self. COVID, wildfires, and distance teaching require an examination of the physical and mental spaces I live in and what I want my world to be and do and show.


I quickly realized it’s light. Light prompted an urgency to explore the binary need to look so intently into everything hiding within to really SEE, and the illumination to slow down and be present to what is already HERE.

It’s been years since we’ve seen the tule fog around here – used to be that kind of mist was commonplace when I was growing up. We learned to drive slowly, to concentrate, to pay attention. Tule fog is deceptive; one minute you can see clearly, the path obvious, and the next you’re sunk into the midst of obscurity.

Just when I noticed I missed it, it’s back. It’s grey, calm, and oddly quiet when I take my morning walk. I’m required to look intently around me to what’s coming into view, attentive to what’s hiding within me that I need to see. Now, the mornings open their opaque arms wide, the sun determinedly popping melon-colored aura behind the trees.

All things are inventions of holiness.

Some more rascally than others. 

-Mary Oliver

These mornings are neither dark nor light, clear nor completely obscured, just intriguing enough to keep searching. Fog-walking forces me to find my way, helps me move forward, or when it becomes too much, sends me home to a cup of tea and a good book.

I naively thought 2021 would be a fresh start, desperate to leave behind the pain of a year that brought us to our knees. Quickly, I’m reminded that it often gets worse before it gets better and that as I walk those foggy streets I have a new day no matter what, a day to just start over and pay attention to the illumination just ahead. And as Mary Oliver said, a reminder that “all things are inventions of holiness”.

The Wren From Carolina

by Mary Oliver

Just now the wren from Carolina buzzed

through the neighbor’s hedge

a line of grace notes I couldn’t even write down

much less sing. 

Now he lifts his chestnut colored throat

and delivers such a cantering praise–

for what?

For the early morning, the taste of the spider, 

for his small cup of life

that he drinks from every day, knowing it will refill.

All things are inventions of holiness.

Some more rascally than others. 

I’m on that list too,

though I don’t know exactly where.

But, every morning, there is my own cup of gladness,

and there’s that wren in the hedge, above me,

with his blazing song.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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