Words have been failing me lately.
It’s more than that, I think. For one thing, healing takes time, and much has been needed this year. Physical issues have battered us both but have also affected others dear to me. Emotional struggles are real and difficult and, well, exhausting down to the toenails. Healing takes rest and time, two things we often avoid until we have no other choice. December brings reminders of friends and family members who are no longer here, like Karen who died last Christmas Day, or my new friend Shannon, who died 8 days after I met her. My nephew’s place remains empty, five years later. We all have empty chairs, don’t we?
It’s the knowledge that life is fragile and precious, warring with how it’s also exploited and wasted. Fact matters less than controversy on a made-up-meme, it seems. The most ridiculous things trend ferociously, obscuring important truths. Occasionally I wonder if we can even tell the difference anymore. It’s so easy to be pulled into a kind of desperate vortex that way.
Yet as I look out my office window this morning, I see the tree stripped of leaves again. Barren and empty, exactly as I feel.
Into my field of view flies a hairy woodpecker, and then another. They are easier to see now, and their bounce on the branches make me smile. Chickadees, cardinals and nuthatches join them, no longer hidden by the leaves. They fight for the last of the berries. They dance and play as they’ve always done, and they’ll entertain me throughout the long winter. “Don’t give up”, they seem to say. “We were here all summer but you weren’t looking.”
Something deep inside me stirs, ever so slightly. Most people think of summer as the time when things are alive. It’s true, of course. In winter, though, I realize how much I’ve taken for granted, and the season of rest and renewal is necessary for me to feel alive again.
When I was a kid, the season was a time of impatience. One year, I found gifts tucked into the closet waiting for Christmas Day, and I opened the corners before carefully tacking the tape down again. Did you do that too? I remember thinking how clever I was, knowing what everyone, including me, was getting before they did. The weight of those secrets was incredible, and the anticipation–by far the most delightful part of Christmas for me–vanished. It turned Christmas into just another day, and it was one of the worst Christmases of my young life.
I’m much older now and perhaps the slightest bit wiser. I am, however, still fighting impatience. It’s different now, these adult advents. In the stripped bare, grown-up years, the yearning and the joy I have is more profound, quieter, even more difficult to express. Perhaps it’s because I’ve known grief, as so many of us have. They partner together, joy and grief. You can’t know one without the other, not really.
How grateful I am for the birds who have reminded me again that advent is not the hopeless season. It’s the hope-more one.
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
Isaac Watts, Joy to the World, 1719