Some mornings on my walk to work, if the traffic lights are right, I take a shortcut through the Quarters up The Armature pedestrian mall. When I cross over 103A Avenue at 96th Street, I pass two bronze figures on either side of the mall, I sometimes call The Coyote Men.+ You might call them Sitting Man and Standing Man, Tricksters by any other name. They form a kind of gate to the neighbourhood. In place of their heads and hands, the heads and hands of deer, baby black bear, mother grizzly, turtle, squirrel, chipmunk, raccoon, blue jay, wolf, coyote, fox, hare–I’ve lost count–pop out of collar and sleeve.
It’s like crossing a threshold to pass them or maybe a gauntlet, and I always make a prayer in touch, glance, or word. Some people leave offerings. I have witnessed a matching bronze boot stuck on one of Standing Man’s small heads, a lacy blue tunic pulled over Sitting Man’s torso, and on another day, a red blanket draped over his shoulders. The Coyote Men offer a preparation for the real tricksters about to come into my day, most of them sitting behind a desk, in a shop, or on a television screen.
At Midwinter Solstice we cross a threshold too. Its coming marks the mid-point of winter, the division between the old year and the new, the longest night and the shortest day. It’s a hard season for for anyone living with loss. Christmas has so much riding on it, impossible hopes sometimes: the vision of a holy child, a holy mother, a holy family. My disasters this past year have been minor: a burst pipe, a break-in, and a couple of small repairs and rehabilitations to the aging body. Real disaster is this: debilitating illness, violence, and war.
Whenever we move forward it becomes a question of faith. Will we leave offerings? Will we be protected? Will we pass through? We don’t know what the future holds, only the concreteness of this present moment. There are echoes of this in the vows families, friends and even communities make to each other, sometimes spoken, often silent: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. We move forward.
I leave you with an ancient hymn arranged by the contemporary composer, Paul Mealor, whose music it seems to me comes from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Music that is a trickster in its own way, pressing so many facets of the world into my heart: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Where kindness and love are, there is God. Or Spirit. Or Wisdom.