In the Night
By Trudy Wischemann
9:47 am,
December 22, 2023

Welcome, winter solstice—the week of longest nights, the imperceptible turning point. By the time you read the next column, we’ll have passed Christmas and the days will already be lengthening, though not noticeably.

I love the feeling of pause I get this time of year. The nights have been drawing me outside this past week to see what is happening, or might be happening, or might be about to happen. It’s a kind of wonder; there in the deep dark, it seems like an answer waiting for a question.

What child is this? The hymns of Christmas speak about that pause, that answer in the dark. O holy night, the stars are brightly shining. Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.

It’s remarkable, when you think about it, that Christians through the centuries have chosen this time of darkness to start their story of holiness entering the world. In general, in cultural metaphors as well as religious ones, darkness is used to represent evil, the shadow side of the human condition, the temptations we face when we think no one can see if we respond. 

And yet, here’s this one night, this one time of darkness when the dark is friendly, more friendly, more nurturing than the lights of town in little Bethlehem, or Jerusalem or any other place of human habitation. The Roman soldiers are apparently sleeping in their bunks. The co-opted Jewish priests are also asleep, and the town criers, the census takers, the bureaucrats and innkeepers. Off in their own little world, sleeping, while a massive though imperceptible change is taking place in the barn with the animals. And only a few humans, those who are used to the night, are there to share the moment.

And they are not Israel’s upstanding citizens, but the people who live in Israel’s blind spots. Come, they told me, pah rum pa pum pum. Our newborn king to see. I am a poor boy, too. I have no gift to bring. Shall I play for you on my drum? Mary nodded, the ox and lamb kept time. Then he smiled at me, me and my drum.

I have found myself finally ready to sing this song, “Little Drummer Boy,” ready to give it as my contribution to this year’s celebration of this moment of pause and reconsideration. It was published in 1958, a year after my baby brother was born, and over the first few years of his life he heard it played constantly on the radio at Christmastime. During his last year of life, we rediscovered his love for it as we sat in Mom’s living room trying to make some music together, looking for an intersection between his rough-living trucker songs and my folkie-protest/ bluegrass-gospel music. Little Drummer Boy was about the only song with chords we both knew. 

And so, when he lay in his hospice bed less than a year later, I played it for him on my autoharp. It was one of the few times he smiled at me during that rugged end of his rough life. But in that moment, he received recognition for what we both knew: that he, instinctively generous and natively musical, was the little drummer boy. It was his gift to bring. He was born that way.

And it was at night. I can still see him there in his bed, the room semi-dark, the hallways quiet in the hospital’s hospice unit. I can still feel the pause that made it possible to reach for the harp and have that moment of communion. And then it passed, and we each went onward with our journeys.

And all of us, most likely, will continue on after Christmas as if nothing very much actually happened beyond the reunions and presents, food and singing. But I hope that, amidst the lights and the cheer, you won’t forget to notice the pause out there in the dark night, the answer waiting for our questions.

Peace be with you.

Trudy Wischemann is a wonderer who writes. You can send her your favorite night messages c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247. This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.

About the Author

Trudy Wischemann
Local writer of the column ‘Notes From Home’