Sunday, December 30, 2012

Look Up

The stockings had been hung by the fire with care; the presents were opened; the carols sung. It was a lovely Christmas, despite – or perhaps because of – our attempts to limit presents to five per person this year. My mother had flown out from Wisconsin, a first, to spend the holidays with our family. There was much to celebrate and be thankful for. The house still smelled of balsam, and a fire burned in the stone fireplace near the dinner table. We’d played multiple games of Bananagrams, Bingo, and Candyland. You might say it resembled a Norman Rockwell holiday.

And yet, to be honest, I was feeling cranky, a post-holiday out-of-sorts, whose source I couldn’t put a finger on. It wasn’t that my jeans had grown uncomfortably snug over the past week or the usual sibling squabbling that comes with the vacation infusion of togetherness. It hadn’t snowed, and so I couldn’t blame my crankiness on cabin fever either.  But my husband put his finger on it one night at the dinner table:  “She’s not happy until it snows.” And, bingo: he was right. We’d been missing a snow-covered holiday, heavy flakes drifting down, the sound of shovels scraping and wind howling – what I’d grown up with in Wisconsin.

When I was little, I used to imagine myself as Laura Ingalls Wilder, snug in her house made of dirt and sticks, snuggled under blankets, the bed warmer and wood fire the only sources of warmth in her makeshift home on the prairie. Perhaps I had a flair for melodrama, but it didn’t seem too far a stretch as I lay in my bed in our small Midwestern house that backed up against a small woods. I imagined wolves howling, lurking outside, and enjoyed the safety of our home even more.

Boston had been snow-free, and now it was December 28. The weathermen were forecasting a storm for the next day, but I remained skeptical. Too often the prognosticators got it wrong, the snow never arriving, or even worse, switching over to rain. My four-year-old, like any child, shares my love for the white stuff, and had been asking when he’d be able to stomp around in it.  “Maybe tomorrow,” I tried to reassure him, but when towns west of us lit up on the weather map with storms and still we saw nothing, we sighed in disappointment. Then, suddenly, a few flakes drifted down, and my son was dancing what we dubbed “the snowdance.” Imagine the disappointment when the flakes turned to rain later that night.

So, when I rolled over the next morning and heard him yelling and singing, “Hallelujah,” his four-year-old expression of pure joy, I knew that Christmas had finally arrived.  And, indeed, a thick blanket of white shrouded our front yard. Soon enough, we were bundled up, shoveling, sweeping, running and tossing snowballs around. This was the good kind of snow – wet, heavy, perfect for snowball packing.  I followed him into the back yard on the fresh expanse of white and we plopped down to make snow angels side by side. We flapped our arms and legs, and he told me to “Look up!” When I did, I saw the tree branches above us, the long limbs coated with snow, crystalline icicles hanging from above. Beautiful. How often, I thought, do we forget to “look up”? How often am I busy looking at the computer, checking my cell phone?

“Look Up.” It seems a good resolution to go into the New Year with. I will try to remember to enjoy the refreshing chill of a brisk wind, the rescue of soft snow. And when our minister ended service this morning, reminding us to “Go where there is no path and leave a trail,” I couldn’t help but smile. My son and I had done just that this morning, in our backyard, in the embrace of that wonderful thing called snow.






Monday, December 10, 2012

A Sunday of Advents

1. Hope.
Sunday began with a wake-up call from our son at 7:17 a.m. This was typical. As soon as he rolls over in bed, one eye open to the world, he likes to get the day started. He is only four, and for him every day promises to be as good as or better than the day before. He is hope personified. “What will we do after that?” has become a common refrain in our house. To his ambitious mind, we never have a long-enough list to fill the day. My husband mercifully got out of bed to cook breakfast while I slept in. When I came down to the smell of coffee brewing, they had already played three rounds of “Zingo!” and were now into “Pop Fly,” another great invention for the under-five set, where a beanbag thrown at a lever launches miniature balls into the air at surprisingly soaring heights. I sipped my coffee and watched, thinking and planning for the day ahead.

2. Peace.
A brief sojourn to the small church up the hill afforded one hour of uninterrupted time. Evergreen wreaths dotted the high walls and a single Christmas tree bowed its branches in the sanctuary. A place for gifts for the needy greeted us. When the minister asked for names of those in need of prayers, it became clear that more than a few of us were fighting our own battles during the holiday season: caring for sick parents, sick children, a wayward teen. As we shook hands during the Peace greeting, we bucked each other up, whispered comforting words. And when our minister lit the second candle of Advent, he spoke of the importance of peace not only in our world but in our own homes, in our families. He reminded us that the very definition of serenity is none other than peace.

3. Joy.
A few hours later, grandparents, parents, cousins, and brothers all sat in a row watching their granddaughter/ daughter/cousin/sister perform in a holiday concert in a magnificent hall. Our anticipation was kept in check by the reminder that this was a high school performance after all. We shouldn’t expect too much. But we were still hoping (that first candle) for some holiday cheer, an invigorating song or two. What filled our hearts when we listened to our girl and her classmates sing a gorgeous, intricate holiday madrigal -- right after a bell choir performance and before another girl’s stunning rendition of O Holy Night? Joy.

4. Love.
Often the holidays seem to mean more stress, more bickering between siblings, more plain-out exhaustion. And surely those moments have appeared and will reappear as we near the 25th. But on the drive back home, all the children nestled into their seats, the melodies of the Christmas concert still dancing in our heads, what my husband and I felt was one of those rare moments that you can actually take and cup in your hands, like water. How lucky we are, how blessed to all be together, to have an afternoon that was filled with music – and that fourth candle of Advent, love.

It was a good reminder for me: from the Events of the season come the Advents, the arrival of hope, peace, joy, and love. May yours be filled with all the advents you desire.