A Declaration of Light

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”


The light: often nothing but a ribbon on the horizon. It is enough. (Credit: Niels Busch / Corbis)

Thursday at work, son Micah helped patch up the ceiling in an apartment occupied by a pregnant–any day now!–Chinese woman conversant in English and her father, who relied entirely on her as translator. Sensitive to her condition, Micah took extra care plastering and sanding, going so far as to bundle the messy tarps up, load them in his trunk, and take them to the company dumpster for shaking out. He didn’t want any dust in the mother’s and baby’s lungs.

The woman’s father noticed Micah’s consideration and repeated three times: “Xeixei.” Thank you.

Knowing what the father was saying, Micah nodded, smiling politely, kind of bowing.

I learned all this when I got home at 9:00 that night. Micah had spent a couple of hours researching and practicing. He would finish the patching job Friday, and he wanted to give the Chinese man a proper reply.

As I sipped a red blend and warmed up leftover pizza, Micah told me the story and practiced: “Bu yong xei.” Over and over. We even said it together. “I don’t want to sound like an asshole, Dad,” he said. “Does this sound right to you?”

The syllables passed for “don’t mention it” or “you’re welcome.” “I don’t know,” I said. “But I think all you have to do is mean it and you’ll be fine.”


Hanging in my study. Micah’s elementary school handiwork.

All day I wondered how he made out. Actually, my son had already made me proud. It’s the thought that counts and all that. When he got home, though, I was waiting. “So how’d it go?”

The man’s pregnant daughter was present when Micah finished the job.

“Thank you,” she said.

He had cribbed the words on his wrist: “Bu yong xei.”

“Oh!” she said, “Your Chinese is very good.”

Micah headed out the door, but before he got to his car, the father leaned out and called to him: “Xeixei.”

My son’s spirit blossomed in the gray afternoon: “Bu yong xei,” he said, without reading this time.

The Chinese father’s smile dispersed the clouds. He bowed and made prayer hands.


Light has its way with darkness on Presque Isle.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Five years ago I would have agreed, but the words would have caught like a lump of doubt in my throat. Micah was covered over in what is now his rich compost of consequences. But on Friday, “Bu yong xei.” A stargazer lily grows out of the rot. A shaft of sun persists in a thunder storm.

I bet my life on light. Its promise to confuse and overcome darkness fills my chest and speaks a truth I share with another Father: “This is my son, my beloved. With him I am well pleased.”


Some blossoms take years. That’s all right.


14 thoughts on “A Declaration of Light

  1. I loved this post. When you write of Micah, I generally find myself cheering him along in my heart. I don’t know him of course, or really know that much about him, but it seems he has come such a long, long way and has reached some sense of happiness within himself. You are a very proud father, as you should be. I think Micah is probably a lot like me, having been saved from himself with the aid of his parents. Job well done and beautiful post. I really love those pictures, especially.

    • Thanks, Rose. You mentioned the photos. I’m really coming to discover the blog post as a distinctive genre that, for me anyway, involves those photographs. Such a curious process writing is, huh? Thanks especially for rooting for Micah.

    • Hi, Lily. Of course, every father is eager to find good qualities about his son, but I admit to being extremely grateful for that particular act of kindness. Peace, John

  2. Oh my gosh – talk about a lump in your throat!
    This was so moving, and I’m not even a parent. Thanks for sharing. I love the “compost of consequences” metaphor. Very apt. I also think Micah’s weaving is quite nice!
    Blessings, Melanie

  3. Pingback: Why Babies Fill Us with Longing | A Napper's Companion

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