Earlier this year, when I was writing my Lenten blog, I described a practice that some members of my family have been following this year (it’s in the post called “Nice Things Men Do“). Basically, my dad came up with this idea for my mom that they would each do two acts of kindness for the other person on alternating months. So my dad would take one month, my mom the next month, etc., and there were various rules and stipulations, like you couldn’t combine a birthday or anniversary gift with an act of kindness, etc. Martin and I liked this idea a lot so we decided to do it too.
I so very dearly wish that I had the freedom to provide the specific, juicy details on how this all worked out, but I definitely don’t. What I can tell you is that I’ve been observing how the experience unfolded over the year, and one line from the Carrie Newcomer song, “When One Door Closes,” summarizes it perfectly: “It’s not always getting what you want but wanting what you get.” And I’ve been wondering about what this means for the act of giving and receiving gifts that we all experience (sometimes endure is a better word) at this time of the year. Here are some of my thoughts.
I learned, completely by accident, that the third Sunday of Advent (i.e. today) is called “Gaudete Sunday,” which I will presently explain. I learned this from a holiday party with my girlfriends last night, at which one of them (who shall remain nameless) can be anal and highly competitive, and made up these lists of “Christmas Trivia” questions. (I can say bad things about her because she knows I love her and she helped deliver my baby, and therefore, we have no secrets from each other. None at all.) Anyway, one of the questions we heard, at least while we were still paying attention to her and her lists, was “What is the 3rd Sunday of Advent called?” None of us knew, not even the practicing Catholic, although I think her guess was the closest. The answer is “Gaudete Sunday,” and as I said, I will explain why this matters shortly. The main thing to know, and actually the main thing that is important about the word “Gaudete” is that it means “Rejoice,” and this party, this gathering of five of the most gorgeous women I know, contained so much rejoicing that at one point I had to go outside because I was afraid I was going to vomit from laughing so hard. And the only thing we were drinking was Fresca.
Today’s post is a little different because the poem comes first. You pretty much have to read it, even though I know some of you don’t read the poems (don’t think you’re fooling me). Afterwards, hopefully you’ll see why. It’s about an umbrella, and the need for shelter.
Here I Am, Lord
The ribbed black of the umbrella
is an argument for the existence of God,
that little shelter
we carry with us
and may forget
beside a chair
in a committee meeting
we did not especially want to attend.
What a beautiful word, “umbrella.”
A shade to be opened.
Like a bat’s wing, scalloped.
A drum head
beaten by the silver sticks
and I do not have mine,
and so the rain showers me.
One of the things that has always struck me about the Christmas story is that Mary and Joseph had no sense of “home” when Mary gave birth to her baby. They were travellers, transients, really. I bring this up because I’ve been mulling over the many questions you were kind enough to send in response to my post on questions. Here is an excerpt of the question in particular that has me thinking about “home, homelessness, and belonging.”
“Paul McCartney once sang, ‘Once there was a way to get back home …’ Is there a way to get back home? When will I settle down into a peace filled life with a strong sense of home again and a job that is more than a ‘job’ but feels like a vocation? I live in a nice home with a good man with whom I am happy but I do not feel like I am quite “home” again nor quite arrived.”
This really resonated with me, probably because it is something I perpetually struggle with. My family all live on the east coast, and while I never really had an ideal place that I wanted to live when “I grew up,” I never imagined that we would end up in this little midwestern “city,” 150 miles from Chicago. I remember when the only friends we had when we got here took us out for pizza our first week. I looked out the window and cried, silent tears dripping down my cheeks. Peter Jennings, my favorite newscaster, was still alive then, and I thought, “Anything could happen to the world, he could report anything, and we would be out here in this barren no-person’s land, and never know it.”
A few weeks ago, I did a ridiculously awful thing: I got into an elevator BEFORE a person in a wheelchair who was waiting for the same elevator. We were the only two people there, and the elevator was one of those very old, tiny, creaky ones in an “historical” building, where you aren’t completely sure that if you get on it you will ever get off. It’s the kind of elevator that makes you pay special, up close attention to the certification notice hanging on the wall inside, making a little mental note of the name of the person who has signed the notice, hopefully sometime in the last century. The young man in the wheelchair and I, we waited for the elevator to lumber down, and when it got to the first floor, I said, “Please, go ahead.” He said, “No, you go ahead.” “No, please, go on,” I said, sort of pleadingly. “No,” he said, “I’ll wait.” So I got on, and the whole way up, the whole 4 FLOORS, no, not 10, not 20, not 85, the whole 4 floors which I could have walked with my fully functioning legs, I thought, with recurring horror, “What kind of person gets onto an elevator she doesn’t even need before a person in a wheelchair?” And then it got worse.
As I was browsing through a variety of internet sites this morning to see what else I could learn about Advent, this weirdly-named site caught my eye: Advent Conspiracy. At first I thought, “Oh good Lord, is this going to be one of those psycho sites where people insist that things that obviously did happen (e.g. the Holocaust, 9/11) didn’t happen? And Advent? Really? But when I clicked on it, I was filled with joy and delight! It’s the perfect 3rd Sunday of Advent post and you HAVE to know about it!
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for the many thought-provoking, heart-felt, meaningful questions that you sent in. And if you didn’t send one yet, it’s not too late! Email me privately at email@example.com and I will make sure your question gets posted anonymously. I noticed several themes in what people wrote, and some of are them are: will I ever feel like I am enough? Who am I really? Is this all there is? When will I find meaning in my life? There were a bunch of other that I definitely want to get to (esp. the one about keeping one’s journals: YES!!!), but today I’m going to start with the question: will we ever feel like we are enough? Here is the answer: No.