Late night on Tuesday, January 5, 2020, after holding my breath for several hours waiting to know the outcome of the Georgia runoffs, I sat in the dark in front of the Christmas tree, soaking its irresistible loveliness for a final few moments: its sculptural shape illuminated by carefully-arranged tiny twinkling lights; the combination of kitschy, exquisite, and child-made ornaments; the strands of cranberries; the origami garland my sister made for us this year. This tree gave me much joy this Advent and Christmas, its treasures filling my need for beauty and whimsy, as our local and broader communities creaked under the weight of politics, of the pandemic.

I was loath to take the tree down, but Epiphany was tomorrow. The next day, after an invigorating morning of skiing amidst fog-frosted trees, the ornaments started coming down. The tree was still fragrant, green, a very little bit brown around the edges. Better to turn it into compost now, I thought, than waiting till it turned dry and brittle. It was time for a fresh start. What better to usher this in than these Epiphany gifts: twin Senate victories in Georgia and a new administration that would, at the very least, reverse the inhumane policies suffered by numerous people groups over the last four years?

The insurrection at the United States Capitol began barely an hour into my task. At almost the very same time, cable Internet service went down city-wide — an eerie coincidence. My cellphone struggled to update news pages. I tried to follow the drama on the Minnesota Public Radio app, which kicked me out multiple times. In between horrified texts with friends and frenzied attempts to update my news apps, I continued taking down our beautiful tree, an exercise that kept my hands busy and my body moving. What began as a day of Epiphany celebration had turned into a day of fear and grief.

It’s been over a week since, and I’m no less horrified, and infuriated, by what we saw on that Wednesday. Horrified by emerging details about the mob, its perpetrators, the advance planning. By the harrowing first-person accounts from lawmakers, journalists, and Capitol workers. Infuriated by the leniency given to white supremacists. By some lawmakers’ racist equating of the mob with Black Lives Matter protesters, and by their confounding reluctance to hold the president accountable for inciting this historic sedition.

At dinner the next day, I lit our Advent and Christ candles a final time, one day late. What do the candles represent, I asked my children. Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, Christ. We talked about being like Christ. Jesus turned over tables, my daughter said. We talked about righteous anger, what it meant to fight for justice, and how that would look different from what we saw at the Capitol the day before. We talked about showing up like Christ, with hope, peace, joy, and love, muscular and tender at the same time. We talked about the Magis’ gifts, and the sinister side of the Epiphany story — King Herod killing babies because he feared the threat of losing his power.

The kids are too young to contemplate the perversion of facism, the abomination of genocide. But they are growing up at a time when millions of regular folks sympathize with those who sacked the seat of imperfect democracy with handcuffs and assault weapons, to assist a power-hungry liar by waving the banners of hate in Jesus’ name.

This recent swing towards right-wing hate, fomented by Trump in the last four years, is not occurring in a vacuum; it has merely reared its head in the United States after taking root in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere. That it has begun to infect the body politic in America is something for the world to take note (and it has, given the disdainful, stunned responses from other countries).

Now, during this time of pandemic, of insurrection, is not the time to look away. Truth is on the line. It is time to bear witness, for each of us to decide how to tell the truth, to combat the oppressive lies that have taken hold. To show up as truth-tellers in hope, peace, joy, and love — for the sake of our shared humanity.

Although these days have been bleak and daunting, and bearing witness is exhausting, the world around me is still beautiful. The freezing fog persists outside, coating tree limbs with spindly little needles of rime ice. I crave my hour a day alone in the silence of the snow, whether on foot or on skis. 

My tree has come down, but the trees out there continue to feed me with their irresistible loveliness, bestowing their quiet gifts that help me discern what my next steps should be.

  • Jennifer Lien (she/her) has worn several hats in her life on two continents: newspaper journalist, opera singer, music professor. She resides with her family in northern Minnesota.