On Being Intentional

I went to see an old friend today.

He’d been on my mind for two or three months. Last time I’d seen him, probably a year ago or longer, he was living in a condominium complex for senior adults, and had had some health issues and lost a lot of weight, but was holding his own.

But I had failed to follow up, and in recent weeks he had tugged at the corners of my mind. Then I saw a Facebook post a mutual friend had posted thanking people who had been praying for him, and a photo of him looking a mite haggard but smiling. I messaged her to see what was going on with him. This time, she told me, she had thought it was all over. But he came through, and was well enough for visitors, she said. “Go see him! He would love to see you!” So I did.

He was in a rehabilitation center recovering after a close call with kidney failure and the cumulative effects of diabetes and congestive heard failure. When I tiptoed up to his room, armed with a bag of Russell Stover sugarless candies, he was lying on his side, covered to his chin in a light blanket, and sleeping deeply. But his color looked good, and at the sight of his familiar features relaxed in sleep, my heart flooded with affection. I thought of all the things he had taught me about radio and bluegrass music, all the jokes he told, all the funny stories about different country music people, how he would play “Happy Birthday” on the kazoo during his radio show. How he used to let me go backstage with him at the Ryman Auditorium when he was emceeing the bluegrass series in its early years, or, backstage at the Opry House, how he would invite me to sit on the stool next next to the announcer’s podium, just behind the big red curtain where I had a close-up view of the show. A large part of what I know of Nashville lore I learned from him. Some of my best Nashville memories happened because of him.

Now I debated whether or not to awaken him. I slipped the bag of candy out of my purse and placed it on the bedside table, and stepped out into the hall, where I flagged down a nurse. She assured me he had been asleep for awhile and would be awakened soon anyway for dinner, and encouraged me to wake him up.

I went back into his room, put my hand gently on his shoulder, and softly called his name. His eyes opened, then he focused on me, and a smile of infinite sweetness crossed his face. “Hiiiii!” he said softly, and opened his arms for a hug. “It’s been so long!”

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Saturday night I saw an old friend for the first time in three years.  We had gathered at the home of some mutual friends for an informal night of making tacos and watching a movie. (Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them – I thoroughly enjoyed it, muggle though I may be.)

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We caught up on each other’s lives and families, and cars. She gave me a ride around the block in her Subaru, which fit, she said, as though it had been made for her. She demonstrated the inadequate synchronizing of her phone with the car by showing me how it announced, without her requesting it, that it was going to call Couple A and B. I asked her who Couple A and B were, and she said, “They lived across the road from me when I was growing up, and next to my grandmother.”

 

“I remember them! He came and got the mouse out of the trap when you had a dead mouse!” I exclaimed.

“Yes!” she said, and we laughed, delighted that we have such a depth of history that we remember such minute details about each other.

We think maybe we won’t wait three or four years to see each other again.

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Last weekend I went to dinner with a group of people – some friends, some strangers – who had gathered to honor J, a mutual friend who had recently died. Last week J would have turned 42, and her next door neighbor decided she would contact different people who had known J, and we would celebrate her birthday, and speak of her and remember her and all the things we loved about her. It would give us the chance to feel, for a short time, as though she was in our midst again.

As it turns out, we sat around a long table that discouraged mingling, but over the course of the evening we all managed to visit with someone we had just met, all because of J and her impact on our lives.

I had known J for probably 16 years but saw her rarely and had never had the chance to get to know her well. We had mutual friends and hung out together, attended the same Halloween party, liked ballroom dancing and cats and talking politics.

I got to know her best on Facebook. She had a wicked sense of humor. She took a bus to and from her job at Vanderbilt University, and she frequently began her Facebook posts with “Overheard on the bus:…” followed by some astute insight into human nature that could make you laugh until you cried. Or think about something in a new way. Or both.

We knew we liked and respected each other, but we never had the chance to develop a friendship with the depth we knew it had the potential of having. So when I mourned her, I also mourned that lost potential.

After we left the restaurant, we all stood in a circle and shared who we were, how we had met J, and our most vivid impressions and favorite memories of her. Another mutual friend said that she, like me, had not had the chance to know J the way she would have wanted.

“If there’s anything her death has brought home to me,” our mutual friend said, “it’s that we must be intentional in our relationships with one another.”

Amen.

THE SACRED SEASON

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Today, like churches all over the world, my church observed the second Sunday of Advent, the season of preparation to welcome Baby Jesus, the Christ Child, whose humble birth Christians celebrate at Christmas.

For me, an aura of holiness seems to saturate the very air every Christmas season. Christmas Eve, in particular, holds a particular sweetness to me.

One could argue that it’s a carryover from my childhood anticipation of awakening the next morning to the wealth of gifts that the mysteriously powerful Santa Claus would have left under our Christmas tree overnight for me and my brother and sister.

Or maybe it’s the giddiness of having my grandparents spending the night and my grandmother singing, “Christmas Time’s A-Coming” and then watching the 10 o’clock news to see the weatherman tracking Santa’s progress across the weather map.

Or it could be the joy of snowing our Christmas tree, decorating it, then sitting in front of its twinkling lights in a darkened room that night before we go to bed, savoring the quiet, letting the peace of just being still calm our hearts and minds.

Or perhaps it’s the anticipation of meeting my cousins at my great-aunts’ house on Christmas Day for a delicious meal followed by an exchange of gifts like socks, pencils and crayons, and Lifesaver books, then watching my brother Bob and cousin Mac setting off fireworks in the middle of the rural Alabama road.

Or it might be the joy of being out of school for several weeks, and the happy near-certainty of getting to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day with my first cousins.

But, no…no. No, those are not it. All of those things contribute to the pleasures of the season, but none of them hold the essence of Christmas. They are special things, but in and of themselves they are not sacred.

Every year, I read magazine articles and devotional booklets that rail against the commercialism of the season and moan about how easy it is to become so busy that you forget “the reason for the season.” But for me, the underlying sacredness of Christmas permeates everything: the greenery and candlelight in homes, in stores, in churches, even in offices; the brilliant twinkling colored lights of countless downtown street lampposts; the gala atmosphere of parties with coworkers, families and friends; the favorite music and television shows and movies of the season; the hustle and bustle of stores as people seek gifts to delight loved ones; the sparkle in children’s eyes as they watch the community Christmas parade and run to catch candy thrown from floats and clowns and beauty queens and Santa. Somehow, in all of it, I find the joy of the sacred.

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Christmas also highlights for me, more than any other holiday or season, the strong elements of the Jewish faith that permeate the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The dates of Hannukah coincide with the Christmas season. This year my Jewish friends will celebrate Hannukah beginning the evening of December 24, 2016, and extending through January 1, 2017.

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Many Christmas carols feature melodic lines with minor chords typical of music from the Jewish tradition, as well as lyrics from the Old Testament prophets that predict the coming of the Messiah.

Jesus’ lineage, as listed in the first chapter of Matthew, reads like a Who’s Who of the Old Testament. His parents took Him to the temple as soon as they could, where Simeon and Anna recognized Him as the Messiah and proclaimed it to all within hearing. When He was 12, Jesus debated in the Temple with rabbis and scholars, neglecting to tell His parents, Joseph and Mary, of the change of schedule for the trip home.

This Christmas season I find myself feeling even more strongly this visceral connection to Christianity’s roots in Judaism.

I am currently reading a book that reminds me of why I find reading such a delight. On every page of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, I find myself learning something I did not know before, and marveling at how much information exists out there. The more I know, the more I realize how little I know about this world we live in.

And somehow, in reading this book and marveling at the intellectual nuances of the Jewish faith, I find my own Christian faith stronger. Stronger, and yes, sweeter, as we progress through the Advent season toward Christmas Eve, the sweetest, holiest, most sacred night of all.

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In my mind’s eye, Christmas Eve has always been, and still is, overlaid within the embrace of a midnight blue sky lit by the twinkling glimmer of a hundred thousand stars; with the sensation of angels’ wings brushing the air around me; with the ethereal harmonies of a heavenly chorus echoing softly in the air; with the shadows of shepherds and sheep dotting the moonlit hillsides; with the dim lantern-glow of a stable warm with firelight and the sweet musty smell of hay and livestock as a young, overwhelmed couple contemplate their newborn child; with the mysterious Magi compelled to journey across long miles to bring gifts for the King they know the Christ child to be.

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Christmas Eve is sweet anticipation that yields to the joy and relief of Christmas Day, when Love came down, when all that is sacred became flesh and they called His name, Emmanuel, meaning, God with us.

via Daily Prompt: Sacred