Sunday, December 22, 2013

O, Come, All Ye Not Ready

Right about now, “How ya’ doin’?” becomes “You ready for Christmas?” and my voice catches in my throat because, let’s be honest, I never am.
The Christmas letter that has come to be expected could be written, reproduced, and mailed (It has been.).  The tree could be decorated within an inch of its artificial life (It is.).  The gifts could all be bought (Not quite.) and wrapped with tasteful paper and wired ribbon (I can only hope.).  The refrigerator and pantry could be filled to brimming with multiple units of cream cheese and condensed milk and pecans cracked and shelled by the hands of loving parents (Praise the Lord.) and I still would not be ready.
Ready means preparedness and wholeness and availability. Ready implies fitness and qualification like an Army Ranger or a Navy Seal.  Ready infers that I am somehow worthy to enter this holiest of seasons.  No amount of wired ribbon or condensed milk, no number of empty stocking contributions, no measure of time spent reading Guidepost devotions can do that.   I will ever stand at the edge of the stable wondering when one of the wise men is going to turn suddenly from his adoration of the baby and point me out as a fraud.
This is what I am thinking when some unsuspecting soul smiles at me in the Walmart check-out lane and asks, “You ready for Christmas?”
A few days ago, in the corner of a quiet coffee shop, at a table whose wooden top was scratched and watermarked, a friend and I bent our heads together in voices just above a whisper to talk about that, to confess what it feels like to not be ready for Christmas.  “The season got here so quickly,” she said.  “Thanksgiving was hardly over before the first Sunday in Advent appeared.” It has nothing to do with shopping or cooking or decorating, we agreed, but everything to do with stilling one’s brain and filtering out the noise long enough to consider what it is we are supposed to be celebrating.
That is the difficulty.  The stilling, the quieting, the letting go of the ill-considered notion that what I do, accomplish, carry out has some impact upon the coming of Christmas, the coming of the Christ child into the world, the coming of the Christ into me.
I have been watching the moon these last few nights, watching it swell into a consummate curve like a pregnant belly nine-months stretched.  I have watched it, wondering with each rise over the edge of the darkening landscape, when it will be the perfect circle. It is a slow process, this coming of the full moon.  It will not be hurried.  It will not be slowed.  It does not respond to my longing, my urging, my pressing.  
I think of my friends whose first baby, a girl, is due to arrive any day now.  They’d been told by the people who are supposed to know such things that she would be here before Christmas.  Those people had even suggested that they could make her come on a specific day, but consultation with baby Ella set them straight.  She, too, will not be hurried.  Nor will she be slowed.  She is not withholding her arrival while her family gets ready.  She knows that ready is what her family will become at the very moment they see her face, hear her cry, grasp her hand.
That is the answer.  Ready is not something we make ourselves.  Ready is something we become by virtue of that for which we long.  
The moon will wax full, the baby will be born, Christmas will come.

Copyright 2013

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Bringing The Band

On the other side of the state, my mobile phone produced the bell chime that sounds like an elevator reaching its destination.  A friend had sent me a message that read, “Y'all might want to call in reinforcements, there's gonna be some property destroyed in the Boro tonight!”  I knew what it had to mean, but the reality was so improbable as to deserve the descriptions it would get in the coming hours: unprecedented, unbelievable, miraculous.
26 - 20.  Eagles over Gators.  David over Goliath.  The No Smoking sign in heaven turned off just long enough for one victory cigar.
Words began flowing out of The Swamp, words strung together into news stories and columns and blogs from the singular vocabulary and distinctive rhythm of sportswriters, words that, in any other context, would be trite and sentimental.  And I read as many of them as I could find.  After a while, because sportswriters are, first of all, good writers, it didn’t really matter that I had not watched or listened to the game myself.  
But I kept reading.  The Facebook posts and the comments on the Facebook posts and the comments on the comments on the Facebook posts.  It was all so much, I don’t know, fun.
And then sometime around Tuesday afternoon, I think, I came across a blog post on the website Gator Country which identifies itself as “the insider authority on Gator sports.”  Written by Nick de la Torre, the post offered five things that stood out about the football game.  Numbers one through four sounded familiar, simply recaps of all the other analyses I’d read.  Number five, though, caught my attention.  Number five was “Georgia Southern’s joy after winning.”  
De la Torre described how, after the clock expired, the team in blue and white stormed the field.  “A normal reaction,” he wrote, “for a team that just pulled off an upset.  That wasn’t the picture that stood out.  The team circled around their band – yes, Georgia Southern brought their band (something even Vanderbilt didn’t do)  – and they sang their alma mater.”
They brought the band.  A team that most of the world expected to lose, a team that was out-manned and out-moneyed, a team that would be disappointed, but not devastated to get on a bus and ride home having done its best but having lost.  That team brought its band.  They brought the trumpets that heralded them as heroes and the drums that beat out the cadence of history.  They brought music, that strange mixture of sounds that musters and rallies and holds together all manner of disparate souls.  They brought the band because, while winning was what they came to do, it wasn’t the only reason to be there.
That’s where I stopped reading.  That’s when it stopped being about just football and started being about life. About having dreams and pursuing them to the end.  About making commitments and never walking away. About always bringing the band.  No matter what. 
In 1910, after leaving the White House, Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech at the Sorbonne that contained what has become arguably his most famous words.  “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better,” he offered.  “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
If Theodore Roosevelt had been a football coach, I think he would have taken the band. To every game.  No matter how far away.  No matter how long the odds.   ‘Cause if you bring the band, there’s always a reason to sing.

Copyright 2013