Advent has taken on a richer, deeper meaning this season. While it's a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus at Christmas, it's also been a time of agonized waiting and dizzying preparation for that moment when I will transition from visiting Easter House, to residing there.
This recent four-day visit had us blowing through a checklist of things to do:
- close on the loan that will allow us to renovate the downstairs kitchen and bathroom, which currently are as efficient and easy on the eye as a 1976 Pontiac Pacer
- apply for a part-time reporter position at The Ada Herald, only to find out the position was filled two weeks ago
- attend my sister's party, celebrating the end of the first semester at Ohio Northern University (it's the Winter Solstice for educators, the darkest, longest part of their school year; from here on out, the days build toward summer break)
- leave said party with my sister's fake Christmas tree, boxed and a little dusty from its long banishment in her attic
- make a run to Keith's Hardware to get those big, ceramic, retro multi-colored lights for the outside of the house, and strings of tiny white ones for the Christmas tree. Head back to Keith's to return a strand of tree lights that didn't work. Go back again because we didn't buy enough. Make yet another trip when two strands don't light up all the way (they were missing a bulb). Mutter regrets about our nation's love affair with cheaply-made goods from China
- oversee the delivery and installation of two new beds in the two guest rooms upstairs. Disassemble the sofa bed to move it from one bedroom to the other. Work until midnight putting it back together. Rue the decision to bring it with us rather than leave it on the curb in Brooklyn
- Meet with the contractors about the kitchen and bathroom. Verbally spar with Mark over whether to keep the bathroom a bathroom, or convert part of it back into the pantry it once was. Lose the Battle for the Pantry when the contractor joins the Dark Side and agrees with Mark.
The nose-to-the-grindstone list of To-Do's, and the to-ing and fro-ing to get them crossed off, felt a lot like New York City energy, except the work felt a lot less daunting. Perhaps that's because it's happy work, putting Easter House together. But a lot had to do with the fact that our busy lives were leavened by visits from family and friends. People dropped by to say hello and to check in on us.
Dropping by. It's unheard of in New York City. You just don't do it. The only time I would do that was with our friend, Sue, who lived down the hall from us in our co-op building in Clinton Hill. And even then, I didn't do it very often, because it seemed to shock her. "Who is it?" she'd shout from behind her locked door. I felt like I was invading her hard-earned personal space.
In New York, you make the adult equivalent of play dates. You text, and schedule a meet-up at a coffee shop. You get together for drinks at a bar. It's arranged. It's planned. There's nothing impromptu about it.
In Ada, my neighbors, Tom and Sherry, came over to see how the painting was going. We ate Italian Christmas cookies that I had brought with me from Court Pastry in Brooklyn. My nieces came by, to help decorate the house and the tree. I paid them in calories, in cookies and hot chocolate with whipped cream.
While we were on the porch, banging in nails along the porch trim to hold up the string of lights, we heard honking from the street. It was Tom and Mary. We've known them for several years, through my sister, and past visits to Ada. They parked their car in front of our house and came in to see the place, still spectacular despite the unpacked boxes, the lack of furniture, and the quarter-inch of plaster dust everywhere. Their exclamations of delight bounced off the walls of the empty rooms.
Sis and Brother-in-Law also stopped by, unannounced, to collect the girls. They walked in through the back door, which I've had to convince Mark to keep unlocked when we're at home. "It's Ada," I told him. Maybe I'm being foolish, but I'm not worried about a home invasion. Not when there's so many places to hide, and so many doors (five) to escape through.
It was a good and welcome busyness, the kind that leaves you filled up rather than depleted. It took the edge off these long, last, few weeks, a time that has felt like slogging barefoot through frozen mud.
Maybe it wasn't a coincidence that yesterday was Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, the midpoint of this long, cold, penitential season. To lighten Advent's penitential mood a bit, priests on this day wear rose vestments instead of the usual deep purple ones. Even the Church knows that all this waiting and penance and soul prep can be a little dull and hard.
Pope Francis used his Gaudete Sunday homily to encourage people to lighten up. According to Vatican Radio's website, Francis said that instead of fretting about all they still haven't done to prepare for Christmas, people should "think of all the good things life has given you."
Pope Francis said it 'hurts to see Christians with a bitter face, restless with bitterness because they are not at peace," adding that "saints have the face of joy," and noting that no one has ever seen a saint with “a sad face.”
I'm counting my blessings: Mark, my family, my new friends, my old ones, my health, my good job and the way it's sustained me these many years.
But, forgive me, Pope Francis, I'm also counting the days until a different sort of Christmas morning, when the waiting is over.