It’s cold and dark and I haven’t eaten all day (unless coffee is food), typically when I do my best work.
I know that Jennifer and Jennifer and maybe Jennifer (pretty much everyone I know is named Jennifer) were just dying to read my newest series of Ironic Advent Meditations, although somehow they repressed their anxiety and didn’t say a dang thing about it.
I’m sick of Advent already, and it’s only the second day of.
Wait a minute, you say, it’s not the second day of Advent. It’s just the first day of Advent. Today is December the first and my Starbucks Advent Calendar starts today and ends on the 25th, Christmas Day. Everybody knows that December first is the first day of Advent.
I’m looking at you right now like who are you? Some victim of a Disney ESPN ABC Starbucks Macys brain implant? A Presbyterian? A reader of blogs? A lover of Pumpkin Spice anything? A person who can say “Johnny Football” sans irony? For that matter, someone who can say “sans irony” sans irony?
Just to set the record straight, Sunday November 30th, also known as yesterday, was the First Sunday of Advent. The first day of Advent. Today is the second day of Advent, no matter what your neo-evangelical “Guidebook to a Happy, Healthy, non-Catholic Advent” states in one of its many snappy prose-poems about the baby and the donkey and such.
As I said, I haven’t eaten. And I drove a long way yesterday, no longer than you are thinking right now, through gloom and darkness, away from my children in New York City, towards my big empty house in Indiana, with a dog in the back seat who was suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (also known as, "when I said she likes carrots I didn’t mean to just feed her nothing butt for the entire weekend").
So, not only am I more than usually grouchy, but I missed church on the First Sunday of Advent. Instead of prayers, readings, and communion, I drove through the whelming dark listening to football and a Sabbath’s worth of commercials for the millions and millions of things we must have to celebrate whatever it is people think they are celebrating when they run out desperately and buy so many important things. If only one of those commercials had told me what to buy in case of acute canine diarrhea, I would have been thankful.
Which reminds me of something I heard on the radio yesterday. Some commercial for something actually referred to it as “Black Friday Weekend.” I suppose that’s not much worse than Turkey Day, which I also hear a lot of, but it certainly got me in a bad mood. Don’t judge me. Judge yourself if that doesn’t get you in a bad mood. You’re the one with the brain implant that makes you think that Advent starts on the 1st and who’s carrying Macy’s shopping bags that say “BELIEVE!”
Whether it’s really true or not, I told myself that it was OK if I missed church yesterday. After all, I know the drill for the First Sunday of Advent.
“There will be signs in the moon and stars. Scary things will happen everywhere.
Two will be in Macy’s shopping; one will be taken and one will have to pay the bill.
The sky, not to mention Friday, will turn black.
You never know when the thief will return, and brothers and sisters, in this very very strange passage, the thief is the Lord (not a very cute little Disney baby either). Everything will be shaken, even heaven, and that which isn’t, ain’t worth keeping.
And nobody, I mean nobody, knows the exact time or season, except Starbucks, because they have a 25 day Advent Calendar you can buy someone as an “Advent Gift.”
Or something like that.
“There will be signs."
Late Saturday, just before it got really dark, we were standing together at Noel's grave. Joann, Krista, Lauren, and I held hands and prayed the Lord's Prayer. Someone I love once told me it was the greatest prayer because even when you're not sure what you believe in anymore, you know you still need food. If she hadn't turned and walked away (as was her wont), I would have added, yeah, and forgiveness.
We all slowly moved away, saying goodbye to Noel until the next time. Annie and her kids had recently brought some pretty flowers (also signs that the universe possibly contains love) that were still there despite the snow and rain since. Terribly, she lost her husband, Sam, just a few months after Noel died. A hawk flew over our head and startled us all for a moment.
Before we get in the car, Joann says, somebody had a dream about Sam. Somebody who hardly knew him. He was dressed in work clothes like he had some work to do. And he said to tell Annie he was sorry he had made a mistake.
At his funeral, she said, there was a hawk that kept flying overhead. Then at Milly's soccer games, a hawk would always fly around during the game. When did hawks ever do that? And there always seemed to be one hanging around in their back yard.
I guess I was supposed to gather from this that they thought maybe this was some kind of sign. That he was still with them. I don't know. Pretty far out there. But, to tell the truth, not terribly more so than some of the Advent stuff I'm supposed to believe.
I left Noel's with a even deeper sign engraved in my skin. He was always working on the house, and one of his many projects was finishing off their basement.
So, while Lauren and I were visiting on Saturday, I rumbled down to the basement, doing my best Tigger imitation, to see what Kev was doing, hoping to engage him in some good ol' uncle-nephew quality time. Instead I rammed my tender scalp into the solid wood beam Noel had left in the ceiling above the stairway, which at about 5' 10" and with just that precise angle meant a sharp and deep cut in the top of my head, exactly where I semi-ducked at the last minute.
Kevin didn't look up from his video game. I came up from the basement bleeding, holding my head. Everyone freaked out, gave me paper towels, ice, ibuprofen, a few seconds of concern, and then, obviously, topped it off with sarcasm.
So, the real scene at the grave was something more like this: My bloody wound covered with a couple of paper towels and a bag of ice wrapped up in a dish cloth held tightly to my head by my stylish scarf tied under my chin. It was hard to be as serious as I should have been, especially every time someone looked at me and snickered. And, of course, I looked that ridiculous while Joann told me the serious stories of hawk visitations.
This was the true vigil of the First Day of Advent. For me, the start of another ironic Advent. Bleeding from a head wound, with a paper towel jutting out from my head like a weird visor, holding hands with loved ones at my brother's grave, angry at him for leaving, and also for leaving the low beam in the stairway, praying for food and forgiveness, as the darkness fell. Trying to feel the true spirit of Black Friday weekend.
Scary things will happen everywhere. There will be signs. Hawks hover, perhaps for good. A bloody wound from your brother a year after he's gone. Time is relative. You don't know when the thief will come, but when he does, he'll probably be a baby. Or a hawk.
Hold hands. Pray for food. And forgiveness.