Tuesday, November 20, 2012

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch...

Well, it has started.  The Xmas season is just about in full swing.  There have been Xmas decorations in the stores since mid October, but the full-on media and commercial blitz has started.  The first Xmas ad I saw on TV was from Radio Shack, nearly three weeks ago.  And if I hear the Hershey's We Wish You a Merry Xmas jingle one more time I am going to isn't even Thanksgiving yet.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I love Christmas.  I love the preparatory season of Advent, with its readings full of double meaning.  The anticipation of the birth of Christ, and the anticipation of his promised return.  I love the stories full of promise.  I love the stories of Mary and Joseph in their human doubt, and the angels in their divine comedy.  I love the Advent hymnody and anthems from the western European Christian tradition. I particularly love the English and German hymnody, but also newer hymns and carols and anthems from around the world.  (I really must replace my tattered copy of Oxford Anthems for Choirs one year...) I love that at last, on Christmas Eve, when the colors change from purple (or blue) to white,  when in the deepest darkness of a winter night we sing christus natus est.  I love that we put away the Advent wreath and light just one single, white candle, remind ourselves of the already-not-yetness of our celebration, and share a meal at Christ's table.  I even love the sometimes mixed up story when there are angels and wise men and shepherds all at the manger at once.

But this is not what faces us in the weeks ahead.  No, we face the onslaught of a secular, crass, demanding, commercial Xmas that invades our lives in the weeks before Thanksgiving, and is unrelenting until Christmas Day, when Christmas is just beginning.

The news stories this week have not been about this important (or, formerly important) national holiday when we gathered with family and friends to be grateful for whatever blessings we might have.  We have not even heard much of the inaccurate and euro-centric mythology of the Pilgrims.  We have not even taken the time remind ourselves that brave people seeking to live in freedom made a scary and dangerous journey to settle in an unknown land, and in doing so, unleashed a genocide on the native inhabitants of this continent.

No, not Thanksgiving...we are in full Xmas mode.  Buy this, not that!  Your life is incomplete without spending a small fortune on this year's newest gadget or perfume or car!  Target and Wal*Mart and other retailers can't wait just a few more hours to open;  they'll be open this year at 8 p.m! And imagine the horror; this year's Xmas sales are only going to increase a paltry 4% over last years sales (you can read the full details here...).  You haven't decorated your home with pounds of useless and tacky plastic crap (mostly made in China) yet?  You're un-American! It's Xmas!!!

This year, as I have for several years, I will not participate in most of Xmas.  I will decorate our home, because it makes my husband happy, and I do honestly enjoy the memories that each of the hand-made, or gift, or childhood ornaments bring.  I will send out a handful of cards to people I dearly care about.  I will attend a couple of parties, because I am a social person and I enjoy them.  I will even buy gifts for my loved ones, from as many locally owned businesses as possible, and will give them at Christmas, not Epiphany.

But inside, quietly, I will struggle to not let Xmas overwhelm my celebration of Advent and Christmas and Epiphany and I won't always feel like I've been successful.

I will struggle with resolving the call that Christ has on my life to give away everything that I own to follow him while simultaneously preparing to give and receive gifts I neither truly want nor need; participating in a capitalist system where no-one ever really wins.

I will try very hard not to be a Grinch; to look as if I am enjoying the utter nonsense, the social whirlwind, the secular traditions that have nothing to do with the celebration of the Nativity of Christ.

I will try very hard not to be acerbic about the exhausting orgy of shopping and buying and eating and merrymaking that are the hallmarks of the Xmas season.

I will try very hard not to withdraw even further into myself as the darkness lengthens towards the winter solstice, and the manic forced joy of the season presses in on every side.

I will strive to keep a holy Advent, keeping a part of my heart and mind and soul attentive and waiting, anticipating his promised coming.

I will rejoice on Christmas Day and then sing the carols with abandon.

I will wait and watch as the wise men come weeks afterwards, only then bringing gifts of unimaginable value, and of deepest symbolism.

Will you quietly do the same, with me?

Monday, November 19, 2012

And then there were none...

On Thursday, 11/15, Oberon left us and joined his 'sister' Diva in the next world.  For the first time in 20 years, there is no cat in my house.  

Oberon was the first pet I ever owned as an adult.  Art and Jeanne Cooper, members of First Churches in Northampton where I was a member at the time had a cat with kittens.  Oberon was the last one left.  He was the roundest, furriest most adorable kitten I had ever seen.  He was only about seven weeks old.  I had no idea what I was doing...kittens are easy, right?  He was completely spherical when seated, with little furry ears and tail and enormous paws.  I originally named him Mabden, thinking he was a little I knew of cats.  The vet thought this amusing.  

I worked during the day, and I ended up having to leave him alone a lot.  He would come running to the door still half asleep when I got home.  He loved the laser pointer.  His purrer didn't work when he was very little, but one day, he purred and surprised himself.  

Oberon was a complex cat.  At first, you'd think he wasn't very bright. But as you got to know him, his personality came out.  He wasn't a cuddler, though he did like a good ear scratch, and liked to be near us.  As he got older, he lost his interest in toys.  He and Diva were not littermates, but learned to tolerate, even like each other, and could frequently be found curled up sleeping together.  He was a handsome, beautiful cat, at his top weight more than 15 lbs, with a long, silky double coat.  Shedding season was epic, and he never really did like to be brushed.  He particularly did not like having to have the knots cut out of his underfur.  He particularly disliked the twice-annual bath he required to really keep his fur up to snuff.  He did not like going outside, even though with his huge webbed and furry feet he was clearly an excellent example of the Norwegian Forest Cat breed he was.  I can just imagine him bounding through the snow over the tundra, with his pride-mates, hunting wild reindeer in the forests of Norway...or not.  

As he aged, and his hearing diminished, he became much more relaxed, and less of a 'scaredy-cat'.  He no longer jumped at the sounds of traffic.  At the end, he could even sleep through the noise of the vacuum cleaner.  

A chapter of my life has passed.  The two cats that I've had all of my adult life, through over a dozen moves, graduate school three times, three churches and my marriage to Darrick are now both gone.  At the end, I knew it was time for Oberon, but was just not quite ready to let go, and, as with Diva, I probably kept putting off having him put to sleep too long.  The vet said that at 20, he had lived twice.  

It seems, as we travel through this life, we collect griefs.  Our pets are just as much a part of our families as anyone else, and the hardest part is that we outlive them.  18 and 20 years is a good long life; there were several times over the years that I thought that Oberon wasn't going to make it, and somehow, he always did.  I suppose the balance is to collect just as many joys.  Oberon, in his secretive, sometimes skittish,  sometimes aloof way was a joy to have in my life.  I am so grateful for the years and years I had with both of them.  We will have cats again, and perhaps soon.  I think they would want it that way.  

Elderly cat, dreaming
Whose world went silent long ago
Ears twitching in sleep as if they still heard
Every rustle, the can opener, his name. 

Elderly cat, dreaming
Whose joints ache, whose legs are frail
Paws flexing in his dream world as if they still hunted
Mice and toys, the red dot. 

Elderly cat, dreaming
House cat, fur unkempt and dull with age
In his dream world still sleek and agile
Startled awake by my footfall on the floor.

A purr, a blink, a struggle to get up.
His frail frame slowly, but inevitably headed the way of all flesh, 
But first, some dinner?

(November 10, 2012)