It’s Christmas night, and I’m in the backseat of my parents’ Chevrolet Belair or the Ford that preceded it, or else riding between them in the cab of my father’s Chevy pickup, and I’m four, or five, or six, or seven, and we’re coming home from another Christmas spent with my mother’s side of the family. Maybe we’re coming from my grandmother’s house in Berryville, or from my aunt and uncle’s just a few miles from our farmhouse, and we’re driving over the gravel roads in the dark. Across the barren fields, I see Christmas lights at houses back up lanes, and when I see blue lights, I get. . .well, I get blue. A great sadness comes over me that I don’t understand. Why should I feel sad? It’s Christmas, and I’ve made a good haul of toys, and now we’re heading home where the oil stoves will be blazing, and while the cold night deepens, I’ll watch something on television, and later I’ll fall asleep with still another week to go before I’m back in school. But those blue lights. They hollow me out inside and continue to do so to this day. Whenever I see blue Christmas lights, I feel a melancholy that lays me low.
This is enough to begin an essay, these memories and the question of why blue Christmas lights have always made me sad.
I have nothing against blue; in fact, it’s my favorite color. Blue water, blue jeans, blue eyes. Nothing but blue skies from now on. A color of hope and renewal. A color that represents depth, trust, loyalty, sincerity, wisdom, confidence, stability, faith, and intelligence. A color for open spaces, freedom, intuition, imagination, inspiration, sensitivity. Who would object to any of these things?
Surely my sadness can’t be Elvis Presley’s fault because at that young age, I’d yet to hear him sing “Blue Christmas.” Nor had I heard, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” or “Blue Bayou,” or “Mr. Blue.” I didn’t know a thing about singing the blues. The closest I came was an old harmonica found in the drawer of our library table that I blew a few notes on from time to time, but that hardly qualified me for a slide guitar and the standard C, F, G chord progression telling everyone the troubles I’d seen. No, my blues came from somewhere deeper, somewhere popular music couldn’t help me uncover. But it was there, ready to overwhelm me whenever I saw those blue lights.
And from here, I could go on and on, following a trail of association as I investigate my reaction to those blue Christmas lights. Writing an essay should be a journey into the unknown, a journey that relies on narrative and association and the questions we dare to ask and the speculations we make. We may not come to answers, but the interrogation itself should bring us to a deeper awareness. Posing the question is the first step. Admitting what you don’t know moves you forward and takes you deeper into memory and experience and thought. The past collides with the present and the future, and you stand there in the light—blue or not—more fully engaged with the world around you.
So those blue lights bring me to this. This holiday season and beyond, we should be kind to one another. No one knows the sadness others carry with them. Often, we don’t even know our own miseries until something majestic—something like a holiday celebration—comes along to show us how far we are outside the circle of light, how our hearts can ache, and how blue we can be even if we don’t know why.