From this torch a spark

It's just after midnight on Christmas morning, and the rain is falling lightly on Taraval Street, on a few parked cars, on the streetcar tracks, against store windows, making glass and metal glisten. It doesn't splash but falls on the pavements silently. It melts into the juniper trees with their small blue berries festooning the houses along 20th Avenue.

The Parkside district of the city is asleep.

At Ping's laundry I stand on the curb and lift my gaze to the telephone wires. I open my hands to this wonder: the little spears of rain are like a sacred music, heard faintly as if from some remote recess of thought - a reminiscence, perhaps, or a eulogy.

For in my cold house these nights I have been remembering - not holidays of the past but people and things throughout the world that need to change: hearts aching, for a multitude of reasons. Persons with deep needs, walking in darkness , whose lives could begin to brighten with a spark from some torch without which life may be too hard, may be impossible. Who can give the spark?

It is not easy to comprehend the situation of so many suffering, forbearing multitudes over the face of the earth. Except that there are times when I cannot carry my own burdens, and a voice cries out deeply from the heart, ''Help! Save!'' And these are times of greater understanding and compassion. When my own load is too heavy.

At such times I feel no sadness but rather something bordering on joy, as a person might feel who is coming to grips with a great difficulty and discovering in that act of confrontation and honesty the possibility of success.

The struggle somehow enables me to see more clearly what others are going through. Instead of causing me to shrink away, it enlivens my interest, and I strive to express my feelings in words like these:

Oh give me a sense of the burdens of all humanity, if only in a flash, so I can unashamedly face my own weakness! There's no shame in weakness, no embarrassment in inadequacy, no guilt in the surrender of all one's pretense. For it is in facing oneself, whether in joy or wretchedness, that one begins to find and draw upon his greatest inner strength. ''When I am weak, then am I strong.''

But I'd also ask to have the burden of pride and self lightened, lessened and , if possible, removed from these shoulders. Because mere dependency on self would keep me from inspiration and from the truth that saves.

So it's on my knees - mentally, so to speak - driven there by my own blindness, pride, and suffering and through awakening to the needs of others that I'm finally able to care enough about those whose burdens are too much for them and to send out, as it were, a spark of understanding into the night.

The bedroom is cold as I enter. The furnace is out and must be replaced. But there's a Christmas tree in the center of the room which some friends brought over while I've been away. It's not large, but it has its own charm and is quaintly decorated with colorful ribbons and with tinsel sprinkled over it and a candle placed at the top. And on my desk is a warm and loving note with some signatures, along with a cheerful little box of matches.

The room is quiet, except for the sound of the rain coming down more heavily now in gusts of wind. A storm has arrived: the unwanted guest. I light the candle and lie down next to the tree, my head resting on the edge of the bed. And while the wax burns and the rain lashes the windowpanes, I think long and hard, and then I say some words I want to say across the world to the millions of hearts that want to hear.

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