Thursday, April 17

Do What You Don't Want to Do

Dear Jacob,

When I was growing up my mother tried to light advent candles with us.  In much the same way that we do in our home each December she would bring out the table wreath, read a scripture and light one candle each week until Christmas.

Candles have traditionally been a symbol for hope, placed in windows to indicate safety for slaves and at church altars to represent the pains we want to leave with Christ.  When we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the hope of God's light that entered the world via the manger.

Candlelight is mesmerizing; it highlights us all. When we sit in shadow our defenses decrease.  We note the gleam in the eyes and open up our hearts -- which clarifies their value in romantic backdrops.  I loved having the chance to say the verse and strike the match.  Lingerer that I am, sitting fixated at the edge of the flame kept me in that place of quiet wonder.  Breaking my gaze took me back to sensibility and bedtime.

As much as I remember the tradition with fondness, we didn't do it every year.  Several years ago when I was trying to instill practices that might create a family culture I asked, "Mom, why didn't we do that wonderful advent observance every year? I really enjoyed those times."  She looked at me perfectly dumbfounded.  As much as my mom likes to remember the beauty in things and tell the good stories, she let herself stoop to that place of vulnerable verity.  As if she'd been yearning to say the words aloud for eons, from the time when I first came and disrupted her world, she breathed out from her depths, "Oh, because you two were terrible!"

At that time I had just two small boys. Boys who bounced and interrupted and shredded the papers I carefully designed for them to color while they listened to the verses. Boys who didn't actually listen to the verses.  Boys who argued over who got to light the candle, who got to turn out the light, who had to put the supplies away.  Oh, how I related to my own mother's lament.  For the want of ten minutes to reflect, I had to pay out what felt tenfold by a demonstration of my own poor behavior mirrored back to me.

I got it.

There have been a few years where we both began and ended on night one and simply packed the wreath back away.  There have been years where I made you sit there anyway.  There have been very few moments of cooperation.  Children make it difficult for a mother to create a memory.  But I was that child too and what I remember was wonder.

This year I made something up.  I decided that we'd bring a Tenebrae to our home, that we'd think about how the shadows grow in this week of holy.  I set up the candles in a row, the straight line of Jesus' triumphal entry to the cross.  Every night we extinguish a candle until Good Friday when all the lights go out, the final candle being the very Christ candle we lit at Christmas.

When I announced it and invited you three to come I tensed for the reaction.  One brother is young enough to be excited about the fire.  One is compliant enough to give me his humor.  But you, who are capable of a heckling wrestle, got up and sat down and when I gave you your verse to read, you read it clearly without drama, without interest to be sure, but with respect.  And we blew out the next candle.

Thank you.

Thank you for demonstrating what sacrifice looks like.  For not demanding the death of an experience that could lead to wonder.  For curbing your desire to debunk and decry and disrupt.  For being an example to your brothers of consideration and heed and care. For expanding the room that it takes to consider what it might be like to see a life snuffed out.

Children don't stop to think that in all the discomfort brought on by their mother's trips and photos and bang trimming and ties-just-for-the-ceremony that these are the moments that mothers get to remember too.  That mothers shoot for the joy and are often left with the jumble. Children don't know just how long a mother's memory can be, how we hold in our cries of entitlement even until the day when our grown daughter gives us permission to release them to the world, the world she came and changed for our own good.  Children sometimes forget that their very lives are their mother's days.

There will be many things that you question having to do in life.  Our first examination upon any invitation is to ask, "What's in it for me?"  When the invitations start coming, you might get it wrong at first and stay home. But later you'll begin to get it right.  Your best friend's daughter will dance in a recital and you'll go.  Your wife's company will have a stuffy Christmas party and you'll go.  Your children will sing in the Easter cantata and because you know what your absence does to their hearts, you'll go.  Absence speaks louder than presence sometimes.  Do what you don't want to do.  Do what will honor the other.

You can choose to fight against the things you don't understand.  But just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

I love you,