From My WindowIssue Date: December 20, 2017
A Different Kind of Advent
By Jane Thibodeau Martin,
For the second time in five years, my husband has been seriously ill in the period leading up to Christmas. The last time was an 11 day hospital stay; this time a week. Having this kind of stressful distraction removed me from my normal holiday preparations; and also from the most important aspect of Advent.
In many Christian faiths, Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation for the Nativity. On its face, this is the normal activities preceding Christmas " baking, shopping, wrapping, decorating, entertaining, scheduling and traveling. But in a spiritual sense, time should be devoted to reflection, prayer, acknowledgement of our personal short-comings, and self-denial " expressed through acts of mercy and charity.
I find myself behind schedule in both aspects of these preparations. I certainly have devoted much time to prayers of petition, but not much else. However, I have had plenty of time to observe our human condition, the best and worst of people under stress, and get a pointed re-grounding in what is really important in life.
In the span of minutes, I shared the hospital elevator with a family of four, all sobbing and trying to console one another. I helped them select the proper floor, then stood in respectful silence as they grieved, totally unable to summon any word or gesture suitable. My heart, though, ached for them. Moments later I stepped from that elevator into the lobby, where a joyful contingent of friends and family prepared to welcome home, for the first time, a newborn baby. This baby has been given the gift of the collective love of many people, and is fortunate and blessed in this beautiful greeting.
On my husband's floor, I hear and see family members berating nurses, technicians and nurse's assistants, taking out their frustration and helplessness on caregivers. These men and women work exhausting 12 hour shifts, doing all they can to deliver the best care possible, while of course, being unable to change the root cause of the family's frustrations " the fact that a loved one is in need of hospitalization. I also observe devoted family and friends spending bedside vigil hours in shifts, the teamwork ensuring a loved one is never alone, and that each of them get enough to eat and a few hours to sleep and recharge.
I was the recipient of extreme empathy while in the elevator, having a moment of difficulty myself. This man sharing the elevator with me spoke no English " he expressed his sorrow by striking his chest over his heart with his fist while looking into my face. Our communication, and my gratitude for his gesture, did not need English. His graceful outreach, so perfectly eloquent to me, was humbling. If only I could summon such grace at such moments.
We are finally back home, thankful to be here in this familiar and comfortable haven. All my preparations are behind schedule, but my Advent reflection is this:
More than two thousand years ago, a child was born who taught lessons that are both timeless and especially relevant today. We must love one another, and treat each other as we wish to be treated ourselves. He did not teach only those of his own tribe, faith and nation; and he asks us to follow that lead, and treat everyone as our brothers and sisters. We should reflect on our own failures, not point out the failures of others. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the stricken travelers " this is what he asks of us.
You do not need to be a Christian to know, deep in your soul, that this is the way to make our world a more equitable, peaceful, safe, healthy and comfortable place for us all. In fact, all the major faiths make the same request of believers.
I wish those of you who celebrate Hanukah, or Kwanza, or simply observe the Christmas-New Year holiday period in a secular fashion, the same peace, health, and comfort. We are taught by one of the greatest teachers who ever lived to love each of you, whatever your religion, culture, skin color or country of origin, as we love our own, all year round.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.
Recent stories, opinions and photos