This post is part of a series on spiritual disciplines called Merely Beloved. For more information about this series, click here.
The other day I took Ellis on a much needed hour-long walk. Actually, I don’t know who needed it more – me or her. Whenever I take her out I barely hang on to the leash because she is so good about staying nearby. I get the feeling she relishes the freedom of running random circles and the chance to greet trees and bushes her own way. I’d tried to make a couple of phone calls to catch up with friends, but no one was available. But the “This American Life” podcast app on my phone caught my eye and scrolling through the recent shows I saw a Christmas special from a couple of years ago – the transcript of the show is here.
It had David Sedaris reading something from an earlier work about working as a Christmas elf – a story that was too human, too funny, and too sad. I will never not laugh when he sings like Billie Holiday. There was another interesting piece, but the one that caught me was the first introductory piece by Ira Glass. He said:
You know that saying, you can really tell who somebody is in a crisis? You can really tell at Christmas, too. That’s because Christmas, more than any other day in the American year, is a day when we’re all handed the same stage props. The same tree, the presents, the meal, the relatives, and all the same expectations. And then we all try to create, more or less, the same kind of day. It’s like hundreds of millions of people all set to work doing exactly the same art project. And not just any art project, but a very high stakes art project, an art project everybody cares about getting right. And in that setting, the choices people make never seem clearer.
It was the introduction to a scene in Toys R Us. On Christmas Eve. The background noise and chaos certainly confirmed a sort of urgency that would seem to only come from the most last-minute shopping one could do for Christmas. Ira Glass was with a dad and his kids searching for a particular doll, and it was almost social commentary to hear descriptions about the various aisles of dolls upon dolls – different themes, names, etc. The dad explained that his daughter at the last minute mentioned asking Santa for this doll, and since they hadn’t gotten it for her they ran to the store after dinner at 7:30 pm. They found the doll. It was $90.
You’re a good dad.
I’d better be, for $90.
This is the thing about Christmas. Christmas has given him a stage on which he can prove who he is. He’s the same good dad he always is, but more so, you know? Christmas. Christmas is the time when everybody is who they normally are, but more so.
I keep thinking about this story. And about gift-giving. And about convenience, like how easy it is to get something last minute, or to purchase something from Amazon and have it shipped to the recipient, or to even just get a gift card and send that out. There’s nothing wrong with any of this in and of itself – I totally get the way life swamps you especially during these kind of seasons, and convenience is almost necessary for survival.
I was talking with a good friend from college last night. She came for a brief visit between interviews for her medical residency next summer, and happened to be interviewing up in Indy. We figured out she could have just stayed an extra day, and rather than flying back home today and then flying out tomorrow somewhere else, she could have just flown directly there from here. But, she said she didn’t want to be an inconvenience, to which I replied without really thinking about it – something to the effect of: “Our life is one big inconvenience these days. It wouldn’t have been a big deal at all.”
Our life is one big inconvenience.
The funny thing is that I didn’t mean this in a negative way at all, even though inconvenience is seen as incredibly annoying/frustrating and generally something to be avoided like the plague. I said it with a laugh, tongue planted firmly in my cheek. Because I remember that the so-called inconveniences I’ve experienced in my life – all the interruptions, disruptions, obstructions – they end up being incredibly…good. When I let myself be open to them they are opportunities to experience something unexpected and usually, strangely gracious.
Advent and Christmas – it’s a funny time. It’s supposed to be meaningful somehow while spilling over with tradition and nostalgia but a time of heartache and grief for so many. There’s a lot of truth to what Ira Glass says about how who we are comes out even more during these holidays. And I think that it can be a good time to foster a spirit of flexibility and openness, and a different kind of mindfulness and posture towards the culture around us. Even in the midst of what seems outside of our plans and visions for the season.
And sometimes these revelations and moments even come at what seems like an inconvenient time … Like in the middle of the night.
A Facebook friend posted the following (From the Anglican Book of Prayer):
Lord, it is night.
The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be.
The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.
The night is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities.
In your name we pray.