The Light You Can Hear

Phil Lofton
Porch Light Collective
5 min readDec 20, 2020

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Part of the 2020 Liturgical Calendar Storywriting Project.

An Advent Story.

Photo by Phil

The stars are a blanket of diamonds above us. It is cold enough at night on these flatlands that I feel the tears in my eyes turning to frost as quickly as they form. My mother has wrapped me in more coats than I thought I could ever fit over my body, and scarves cover my red cheeks, puffy from every zephyr of wind that has found its way through the gaps and folds of my head coverings. I hold my father as tight as the bulk of my clothing will allow, and on the back of Bávllos we trudge onward through the tundra.

When we arrive at the river, the winding serpent that leads out to the sea, father places me on the ground, and with a few swift movements of logs and the strike of a flint, he has a fire crackling for the three of us. Now, it is time for me to play my part.

“Why do we come to the river this night each year?” I ask, knowing the answer full well. But I like the story. And I like the ritual. And, having played my part, I sink into Bávllos’ fur, hoping he won’t poke me with an antler again as he lowers his head.

Father reaches a hand to the sky and begins his story.

He tells me of the night when he was a boy, younger than me, when the people had set their tents here. It had been a bad winter, full of sicknesses and tumors and aches and pains, in both our reindeer and our people. Many, including my grandfather, had already died. Many more, including my grandmother, had been carried here to the river so they could have their final hours in peace, close to the water so they wouldn’t die thirsty.

That night, as the few healthy men and women stirred between tents, tending to the sick, the sky became filled with light — not the chattering purple and green guovssahas — but a strange braid of pure white, which wound around itself and sang to those down below.

It began low and slow, Father says, beginning his recitation of the Lightsong, then, as the Light grew brighter and closer to our camp, it grew warmer. It grew faster and brighter, and the Light wove in the sounds of birds and pianos, and singing glass.

When the Light touched the earth, Father says, holding up three fingers, three men — or women, perhaps, he could not tell — made of light came from the ground and walked among us. Their hands and fingers were long, and their hair was the color of fresh snow, braided in crowns around their heads.

They entered our tents but left no prints in the snow, and they held our sick in their hands and spoke to us in music.

At their songs and their touch, tumors shrank back into flesh. Bleary, blind eyes became clear. The oldest among us — whom we had had to tie to our sleds — stood and walked, dancing to the Lightsong of the Strangers. My own gnarled hand, Father says, uncurled at the song. He tuts his fingers at this part of the story and smiles.

Before they left, they took three of our sickest men and a reindeer near death, and they walked back to the spot where sky, light, and earth had married. And then, Jáhkot, my son, says Father, holding out a stone marble that held every color, they gave me this.

My Father dies, never seeing the people of Light again, but he dies happy and full of faith, clutching the bauble of the Sky people. After my son Duommá is born, I take him to the same bend of the river every year and tell him the story.

Perhaps I should have taken the marble from my father before we buried him. A tool like that may have made Duommá believe. But he is headstrong and his thoughts are here on the earth, not up in the heavens. When he hears the story, there is a look in his eyes — contempt, maybe, or indifference — I try not to be hurt by it.

Once he takes his own wife, he does not hear the story again, though he lets me take little Mihkkal to the river once he is born. A grace on a foolish old man, and a silly story for a little boy will not hurt anyone, I’m sure he believes.

The boy and I grow close. Every grandfather is charmed by a grandson’s smile that he could not pull from his son. Each year, I bring him to the dogleg bend of the river and tell him the story and sing him the Lightsong, and each year he brings me the joy of his presence.

I hold him at his father’s funeral and vow to his mother to look after him. No father should have to bury his child, and no son that young should have to weep for his father.

Years pass, and time and obligations slowly peck at Mihkkal’s time just as time and wear whittle my sight and my limbs, but when he can come to the river on the night we tell the story, he does.

It’s nearly dawn, and I am dying. I can feel the blood turning to frost from the wound in my leg as I lay here by the river.

I was a fool to come without Mihkkal. It hasn’t been safe for years for me to travel during the new moon without the help of younger hands. If it hadn’t been a fall onto a tree branch, something else would have claimed me this night. But I have come here anyway, and I am old. Death is an old friend to any man with as many silver hairs as I have.

I hear a rustling behind me, and see Mihkkal’s sleigh pulling across the snow, and in a moment he is near, holding my head in his lap. I am surprised he followed me, but happy I am not alone.The light is pulling further and further out of the world, and it is hard to see his face.

He asks me to tell him the story again, to stay with him, to not sleep, but it is hard. My body is a heavy, weary thing, and the light of the world is nearly gone. I feel myself slipping into another place, whether it is saivo or heaven, I don’t know.

I speak the old words my father taught me. The words that Duommá spurned. In the air I feel a gurgling, low noise, and for a moment, before I close my eyes, I swear I see a helix.

© Phil Lofton, 2020, all rights reserved.

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Phil Lofton
Porch Light Collective

Storyteller, Podcaster, Percussionist. Proud member of the Porch Light Collective.