The old woman, a kerchief full of twigs slung over her shoulder, halted where I stood in the snow just off the winter trail. My heart was heavy with a sadness that did not match the season. How would I go on with such a burden.
She faced me—worn garments, wind-tangled, gray tendrils. The kerchief strained from the burden of twigs. I thought I recognized the ancient figure from the childhood legend, La Befana, the old woman of Italian myth who travels the countryside visiting children on Christmas Eve. But in the wintry dusk she seemed on a different mission than leaving switches for naughty children.
“Wisdom, my child,” she murmured as if bestowing a blessing.
When she turned her coal-black eyes on me, I felt the shadow of her loneliness and despair slip over my own eyes. Her words were trapped in a crystal mist between us.
“Wisdom, my child, is knowing just how long to carry this burden of sticks.” She adjusted the weight of the full kerchief. “How far you travel is unimportant, but when to put them down, that, that is wisdom.” With a gnarled finger, she tapped my forehead, as if to seal her words inside. She did not smile, but turned to go. Instead, she slipped the twig bundle from her shoulder and let it settle on the snowy ground by our feet.
Instantly, the twigs burst free. Like wild comets they flung themselves into the midnight sky, dazzling and dancing as they pierced the fabric of heaven and disappeared. We watched for a suspended moment, and then La Befana straightened. Her chestnut hair glided over her smooth face as she bent to retrieve the kerchief. After a graceful shake to free the last glistening remnants, she tied it over her shoulder again in a neat sling. From her quiet smile, a laugh like tiny chimes escaped into the crisp night air.
A sudden, brisk gust shivered through the trees. One twig from La Bafana’s bundle, caught in a tall pine, fell between us. She reclaimed it and, sliding it into her kerchief, turned back to the winter trail. With her first step on the snowy path, I heard her whisper, “And this is how we begin again.”
When I looked next, a twig sparkled in the icy moonlight on the path ahead. I saw that I, too, could release my burden of sadness and grief and carry with me instead of the memories so dear. Retrieving the twig, I smiled, my whisper lingering in the cold clear air. “And this is how I begin again.”
Winter’s Invitation offers more poems and messages of Hope and Inspiration during the Winter Holidays. Available here and on Amazon