Monday, December 05, 2011

Faith Works 12-10

Faith Works 12-10-11

Jeff Gill


A Simple Twist of Wire



Every year about this time, I think of them.


In a modern American home, you find the approach of the commemoration of Our Lord and Savior's birth coming when days get short, and nights lengthen to where they start shortly after lunch. This time of year, darkness wraps itself around you like a cheap rain poncho in the wind. You gotta do something, and that something is go to [insert big box store name here] and shop for Christmas lights.


They come in green wire or white wire, the latter a prayerful hope for a proverbial White Christmas, with tree-colored wire for wrapping around, well, trees, both indoor and outdoor.


They are white or multi-colored, and now they're LED or old-fashioned: although for me, an old-fashioned Christmas light is a bulb the size of what you plant as tulips, a proper bulb. (Of incandescents and CFLs we will not speak.) I'm told there are those who shop for all blue bulbs or other such specialty displays, but those are further back in the towering aisles than I ever get. Green wire, white wire, white bulbs or multicolor, LED or regular – all confusing enough for me.


Especially when there are 50 light, 100 light, 150 light strands, even 250 to 500 of 'em. There are probably 1000 light strings back with the blue bulbs. Each January, when the lights come down after Epiphany, some have died, some are flaring with a manic intensity that bodes ill for us all, and others are fine, but the blue spruce insists on growing, so more are needed.


Each year, I stow and toss and make notes for what I need next December 6 (St. Nicholas' Day, as Epiphany is January 6, a tidy frame for décor rituals in our house). And each year I struggle to remember what my note from eleven months previously was getting at.


So it's the odd year that I don't end buying a few more boxes or reels of Christmas lights. They have to be unsealed from their secure packaging which insulated them from the shocks and strife of being shipped across oceans, dropped on docksides, heaved into trains, and tumbled from trucks into loading zones before being carefully shelved by the guy down the street in his blue or red or orange apron.


You slit or gnaw the tape off the plastic or cardboard, and get down to the strings of lights themselves, but there's one last step. The twist ties.


This is when I think about them. If you open up enough boxes, even of outwardly identical lights, you start to realize that the twist ties are where you see the mark of an individual, actual person, someone in China, because yes, they all (as far as I can tell) come from the People's Republic of China now. Somewhere along the Huangpu or Yangtze Rivers, or up Suzhou Creek (as far as I can tell online, most of these lights are coming out of the Shanghai area), there's a vast factory in the middle of a sea of vast factories. Last summer, or earlier, the shop floor retooled to turn out the pre-tangled strands of Christmas tree wire, and throngs of basic laborers stood along lines to place bulbs in sockets and wind handfuls of seasonal joy into proper lengths after the outlets are snapped into place.


All of this among dozens of boxes or reels looks exactly identical across the packages, with a monotonous, almost inhuman sameness. You think only of machines and an acres-wide roof in a desolate landscape.


But then I get to the twist ties. They're always a little bit different. Year by year, you sense the encroachment of the bean counters, with less and less excess on the ties that are themselves snipped off a no doubt large reel, a few inches at a time. The work of squeezing the bundle of 150 or 250 lights tightly enough, then anchoring it in place with a flick of the wrist, a spin of the fingertips. It can't be terribly rewarding work, and I suspect is the lowest job on the totem pole.


Still I see in each box the particular mark of a fellow human being, the loop or knot or bow last touched literally around the world, next unwound by me, here in Ohio. What do they think of us, and what we're doing with these things? What does it mean to them?


I think of them, as persons, and I say a prayer, and touch an infinitesimal part of their lives, in contact with mine.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he no doubt will need just one more trip for lights. Tell him where you come into contact with "the other" this Christmas season at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter. 

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