The Advent of Advent

I can’t believe it’s December already!

The gardens have been cleaned out (mostly) and the last of my butternut squashes are sitting in a sunny living room window. The temperatures have recently dipped below the freezing mark and we’ve even had a dusting of snow here in southern New England. Halloween and Thanksgiving Day have given way to the mad rush of Christmas preparations.

In the midst of making plans and checking lists, the season of Advent tends to slip by unnoticed. Not because it’s not important. But because our sights are set beyond it. Let’s pause and take one season at a time. It’s really worth it to slow down and appreciate the present, even as Advent celebrates the hope of things to come. One thing that’s helping me focus on Advent is a series of videos arriving daily in my inbox. They’re from Dynamic Catholic’s Best Advent Ever program.

A few days ago, one message really hit home for me. In it, Matthew Kelly talks about how life doesn’t usually turn out the way we expect. He calls it the unexpected life. (Watch it here.) For some reason, we judge our days based on how closely they adhere to our expectations. We make plans, write lists, schedule our time, and relax into a general sense of control over our lives. And we get frustrated, disappointed, or even irate, when things go sideways. What if we started each day instead with the notion that the unexpected is the rule, rather than the exception, of daily existence? Would that change our reactions? I think so.

The very day I saw that particular video was a day I needed its message. I emerged from a funeral mass for a friend’s mother only to find several text messages from my mother’s caregiver. I needed to take my mother to the doctor asap. Her doctor couldn’t see her and so instructed me to take her to Urgent Care. And that’s where I spent my entire afternoon, waiting for my mother to be seen, answering her repetitive question “Why are we here?” every twenty minutes or so. I found a new source of patience in the acceptance of the truth that anything can happen on any given day.

So, while Advent is about the coming of Christmas, it’s also about taking one day at a time. It’s about being present in the moments and appreciating the wonder and messiness and unexpected nature of life. And whether Advent and Christmas are faith celebrations for you or not, everyone could benefit from the messages they embody. So, happy December! And may you find peace in your unexpected life. 🙂

Missing…

Yesterday, I learned of the death of a writing acquaintance. I didn’t know her outside of our writing circle, but the loss still hit me. It immediately brought to mind other deaths that have impacted me in the past year. Standing outdoors in the sunshine yesterday afternoon, I looked up into the sky and the image of an escaping balloon came to me. Have you ever seen a balloon seller holding a fistful of balloon strings, only to have one balloon somehow escape and drift heavenward? The bunch of balloons that’s left behind is still colorful. But it’s changed. One balloon is missing.

The pandemic has brought significant change for us all. We talk about getting back to normal and can easily make the mistake of thinking it’ll be the same as it was before Covid-19. But there’s a global sense of grief to work through. The people I’ve lost didn’t die of Covid-19. But still, they were there before we all went into hibernation and they won’t be there when we get back together. Extended families, clubs, organizations, companies, and work places will be missing people. Not that all the missing people have died, necessarily, but they’ve pulled back, been let go, quit, or moved on. Things won’t be the same. And the best we can do is acknowledge that. And move forward.

Have you ever watched a drifting balloon climb higher and higher, until it’s no more than a tiny speck in the sky? A strange mix of loss and appreciation accompanies the sight. That’s how I feel right now, thinking about the losses of the past year. And I’m left trying to focus on appreciating every varied person and thing in my life — like colorful balloons tethered together in a big beautiful bunch. 🙂

 

An Empty Drawer

Spring is around the corner. It could be the warmer weather, or the extended hours of daylight, or the season of Lent that many of us celebrate, but something about this time of year moves us to want to clear the clutter from our lives. Spring is a season for purging, whether your clutter is physical or of a more spiritual nature. It’s just that time of year.

The other day, I tackled my bureau. Well, no, I didn’t physically take it down. But I faced the once-organized-but-totally-neglected mess in its drawers. I can’t remember the last time I put on a pair of pantyhose, yet I’d managed to stuff at least a dozen pairs into a shoebox-sized bin in the top drawer. Fashionable scarves that I haven’t worn once since this pandemic began were squished into a second bin. Socks and belts and random boxed jewelry filled in the spaces between the bins. And that was just the top drawer.

Everything came out of the drawers. I vacuumed them out and then neatly put back what I decided to keep. I could go into detail about how I made those choices, but that’s a subject for another day. And not the point I want to make today. Instead, what I found interesting, was that when I’d finished, more than half of the large, deep bottom drawer was empty. And my immediate impulse was to figure out what I should put in there. Surely I had other spaces that I could clean out and better organize, transferring some of their contents to this mostly empty drawer.

But I left it mostly empty, instead.

What was it about an empty drawer that made me uncomfortable or dissatisfied? Why do we always need to fill the empty spaces? I don’t think there’s an empty drawer or shelf anywhere in my house. Why is that? I saw an ad on tv the other day for a closet-design company. The poor people in the ad needed help because they had too much stuff and no where to put it, so the closet designers solved their problem by creating a wonderfully organized space for them. Now they had room for all their stuff. And more! How satisfying. But, I thought, what if they just got rid of some of their stuff instead? We’re so programmed to not consider that option. But, it is an option.

I wonder, if you and I looked around our homes today, would we find an empty drawer or shelf or cabinet or closet or tabletop? Or do we just spread our stuff into every available space, buying something because it will fill that one empty spot? How would you feel if you emptied one of these spaces and left it empty? Would it feel great, at first, but then feel like an itch that needed to be scratched? A void that needed to be filled? Why? I’m not trying to answer that question here. I just find the question very interesting.

You?

 

Finiteness

Have you ever experienced a perfect storm of events that seem to come together just to wave the flag of your own finite nature right in your face? It can trigger some soul-searching and spark some deep questions. And lead to us to new insights, too, if we’re willing to go there. Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of just such a storm.

The first event happened about two weeks ago; two friends celebrated milestone birthdays. That’s what I call those birthdays that count your life in decades, instead of years. One friend turned fifty and the other, seventy. It reminded me that my middle daughter is also celebrating a milestone this year. And since she was born the year I turned thirty, I’m headed for a change of decades, too. I remember thirty as a tough year for me — giving birth, leaving my twenties, and the sudden death of my mother-in-law. Teetering on the brink of depression, the weight of my own mortality drew into sharp focus. This year, although I’m in a healthier state of mind than I was at thirty, my milestone birthday will still give me pause.

The second experience came in email form. I subscribe to several writers’ email lists. These writers send regular doses of writing advice and inspiration. One day, I received an email from Suzanne Lieurance of Write By The Sea. She’s usually very encouraging. Most days, I read her emails and feel ready to conquer whatever roadblocks stand in my way. That particular day, her note was entitled, How To Be Ruthless With Your Writing Time.  It was more like a slap in the face than a note of encouragement. She basically said if you’ve made a time-management plan and are failing to stick to it, then be warned that you can’t get that time back. Your time is finite. Woah! Its not like we don’t know this. But, boy, do we do a good job of living in denial. Whatever our goals are, however we try to plan our time in pursuit of those goals, we don’t have forever to accomplish them. Truth.

And, then, two days ago, I attended a funeral. There’s nothing like a good funeral to bring mortality to our attention. Thanks to streaming technology and the Covid19 pandemic, I actually watched the funeral from home. A faith-filled, eighty-five year old member of our church had died of a brain tumor. The priest giving the homily spoke of this man’s grappling with the prospect of death. He likened it to the interplay of Tevye and Golde in Fiddler On The Roof — rewriting the scene as a dialogue between the dying man and God, with the man asking “Do you love me?” and God answering, “For eighty-five years…” However long we have, and whatever we try to believe about an afterlife, we still have to come to terms with the fact that our time on earth ends, eventually.

Lastly, on the advice of a friend, I watched the Disney movie, Soul. What a beautiful story of life and death, meaning and purpose! In the end, life’s purpose isn’t to be found in one extraordinary accomplishment, but in the living of every moment to its fullest. Our time here is finite. Hopefully, that thought spurs us on to make the most of it, rather than waste it. Time is a precious commodity. Let’s each spend it well.

 

 

At The End Of The Day

If you’re anything like me, you’ve stepped into 2021 hoping for a better year. The year 2020 went out with a bang. Literally, for me: I hit myself in the head with a metal ladder, requiring a trip to Urgent Care, a single stitch, and a tetanus shot. No permanent damage, though. How did your 2020 end? And how’s 2021 going so far?

I could complain. First, my attempt to replace a beloved pair of shoes (that are falling apart from being worn practically everyday), by ordering three similar pairs online, resulted in having to return them to three separate venues a week later. So much for trying to stay home and stay safe.

I could complain. My elderly mother’s home aide came down with Covid-19, necessitating a test for my mother and a waiting game for me and my sisters who’ve been sharing in my mother’s care.

Again, I could complain. But, on a much larger and completely unrelated scale, a mob invaded the US Capitol, shaking us to our democratic core. The news media and social media sites report on every disturbing angle of that appalling attack. While it’s important to be well-informed, it’s draining and anxiety-inducing to obsess over every scrap of news.

I see an awful lot of people complaining on social media. I see people griping and clinging to the worst of it all. But focusing exclusively on the negative just bring us all down. It really doesn’t help anyone. I’m not suggesting we ignore it and pretend everything’s rosy. I’m suggesting that we shift our focus for the sake of our mental health and well-being.

This pandemic has impacted everyone. Violence and hateful rhetoric impact everyone. Anxiety and depression increase, the more isolated and crisis-focused we are. So I suggest, at the end of the day — literally, at the end of each day — that we take a moment to focus on the positive instead. Turn off the news. Log out of social media networks. Choose gratitude — even if it’s only for the air you breathe or the blanket that covers you. Reflect on something positive that happened in your day. Maybe the sun shone. Or maybe you let someone into traffic in front of you today. Or maybe you had food to satisfy your hunger or you smiled at someone. At the end of the day, cling to what’s good. Practice gratitude. Take a deep breath and try to let go of the negative, the hate, the fear. In doing so, we make 2021 a better year. Are you with me?