[My gift to you faithful readers this season is a short story. My hope is to finish it by mid-December. I have no idea where the story line is headed; we'll find out together. I do, however, welcome your suggestions for a title. I hope you enjoy it. I really do.]
Meggie absolutely hated Christmas carols and Silent Night was at the top of her list. She felt it mocked her. She had gone completely deaf at age six; she was now thirteen. She loved the sights of the holidays, but the sounds were a gift that had been returned. Now every night for Meggie was silent. Maybe it was easier if you'd never heard anything at all, if you'd been deaf from birth. As it was, Meggie had heard her father's whistle, the honk of geese, the sizzle of bacon, and Joni Mitchell sing Both Sides Now. Now that was gone, all gone. She used to pray with the faith of a child that God would please give back what he had taken. But she never heard any reply. This last year had been especially hard on her faith; she felt as if her heart might be dying. She desperately needed the nourishment of memory to live beyond this winter.
Her father had been completely taken with Rachel Ward's performance in The Thorn Birds, so much so that he prevailed in naming the third of his four daughters. He had written words on parchment paper and framed them for her seventh birthday. They hung above her bed, silently. There's a story... a legend, about a bird that sings just once in its life. From the moment it leaves its nest, it searches for a thorn tree... and never rests until it's found one. And then it sings... more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. And singing, it impales itself on the longest, sharpest thorn. But, as it dies, it rises above its own agony, to outsing the lark and the nightingale. The thorn bird pays its life for just one song, but the whole world stills to listen, and God in his heaven smiles.
Meggie had endured three surgeries in three years with no audible results. And last year, in what her father now referred to as the grand mistake, her wealthy aunt arranged an audience with a faith healer in Tulsa. The evangelist had taken her ears in his hands as if he might pull them off. He placed his forehead on her nose and with eyes tightly shut began to shake as if suddenly chilled. She smelled fear on his skin, but never heard a word. On the drive home, her mother turned and signed we'll keep trying. They stopped at a diner called The Purple Cow and had cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes. When her mother and sisters went to the bathroom, her father signed Meg, I'm so very sorry. I should have stopped it.
In early October, Rev. Paul O'Neill began making plans for the upcoming Advent season. He called and asked Meggie's father to read the scriptures on the third Sunday of Advent - Gaudete Sunday. I'd like to have your family beside you when you read. And would Meggie be willing to light the candle for that day? Ask her to think it over and let me know. At dinner that night her father shared Rev. Paul's request. Her sisters became giddy simply at the prospect of being in front of a captive audience. They were strikingly beautiful girls. But Meggie felt something flicker deep within her, something almost hopeful. For as long as she could remember, her family had never been asked to visually participate in the Advent season. Why now, now in what felt like what might be her last winter?
As she fell asleep that night, Meggie could see the wreath of Advent: three candles of royal purple, strikingly beautiful. And then the one of rose pink, the candle she'd been asked to light. She suddenly remembered the subtitled lines from her father's favorite movie: Meggie's dress was rose. "Ashes of Roses", it was called. And in it, she was the most beautiful thing any of us had ever seen. With what faith she had left, Meggie determined to tell Rev. Paul yes. She might not hear on Gaudete Sunday, but she might half-hear; the fire and the rose might be one.