Far beneath his wings, the city bathed in light. The sun had set and the last drops of light touched his feathers as he dropped towards the harbour. The lanterns of the ships emitted an orange light that reflected against low hanging clouds. Heat rising from the city’s warm stones, on which many fires were lit now. The bird changed his course, dropping more steeply now, eyes fixed upon a familiar destination. He shrieked a last call in the air before landing smoothly on the window sill.
In the very same tower, Timo awakened abruptly. He had fallen asleep in his chair. Nothing new. Standing in front of the open window, Timo overlooked the ships, lying still before the harbour. Affectionately he greeted the bird, petting it on his head, returning to reality. Tonight would be the darkest night of the year. Marking the start of the five celebrations of light. Insight, meditation, gratefulness, giving and joy were its traditional sub sequential themes. Each one lasting for 24 hours.
But in this moment, Timo’s mind was solely occupied with the first one. Insight. The moon ceremony. As oldest member of the family, he would companion his eighth grandchild, who would take part for the first time.
Hastily, his feet shuffled down the dark steps of the tower and through the narrow streets. Accompanied by muffled voices, sounding through the walls. The whole city was preparing. He picked up his grandchild at his daughter’s house and started walking towards the westernmost point of the harbour. The rest of the family would follow soon. First-timers and their companions were the first ones to enter the long narrow boats that would row them to Moon Island.
As he looked around him, Timo nodded to several familiar faces, sitting in boats around them. He squeezed the child’s hand and smiled. He could sense her nervousness. The children grew up with the 5 celebrations of light as part of their world. 5 days of festivities, rituals, presents and parties.
By the time they became old enough to take active part, every child knew what each of the 5 days entailed. The mystery and hardship of the first day. The silence, reflection and all people meditating of the second. Some would go without food the entire day. The greeting of family on the third. The presents, charity giving and volunteering of the fourth; and the great festivity of the fifth. All of it topped with decorations, dancing and lots and lots of food. The children learned about the deeper meaning of each day, but still couldn’t possibly grasp where it all started each year.
The boats arrived at the small harbour of Moon Island. Accompanied by the reflections of the fire, Timo walked along the stone path towards the ceremonial area. He led his granddaughter down the bowl shaped area, to the lowest point. There they were greeted by a spiritual leader, who led them to carpets, spread out around a circle shaped stage. When all newcomers sat down, the yearly speech would start. By the end of it, the whole city would sit around them.
Timo nodded his head as a greeting to the spiritual leader. They grew up together. How different two lives can go. “Welcome.” The latter began. “Welcome to the darkest night. Let us find our path to the light once again.”
“Tonight, we will go back to what it means to be human. In all its colours. 24 hours will be spent, living life through the eyes of another human being on this planet. Walking in the shoes of someone else. Man or woman. Sick or healthy. Poor or rich. Living in peace, in war or on the run.”
“24 hours you will life through their senses. Feel what they feel. Coming from a specific culture, society, upbringing and experiences. Familiar with a certain habits and way of living. Truly understanding how they see the world. Understanding how they see, think and experience all aspects of life.”
“For insight and understanding other people’s point of view is the best way to a compassionate world.”
“Let us begin.” The leader ended the speech and all went silent. Everyone drifting of in a dream-like stage, all shut their eyes and opened them everywhere around the world.
Although this way of celebrating the days of Winter Solstice and Christmas is fiction, we can still try to be open-minded and try to understand other people’s point of view. Even if they are very different from us. Let us move towards a more compassionate world.
This year I wish you empathy.