365 Days (A Tale of Three Sermons)

I haven’t written here in days, mainly because I’ve either been too busy or too tired, or both. So, indulge me, if you will, in a Christmas wrap-up.

Christmas Eve found Fuzzy and me driving to church a lot. First, we went to our own UU church for a vesper service. We’re both in the choir, when time permits, and while our numbers were small that night, visiting friends helped improve our sound, and the evening was both cozy and contemplative. The minister at Oak Cliff UU often begins his welcome speeches with the acknowledgment that there is often fear and trepidation in visiting a new church, and especially in casting off the trappings of other religious styles in favor of a new one. Whether you’re coming from high church to a more congregational version, or going the other way, I think that’s equally valid.

We lingered for a while, eating far too much sugar, after the service was over, and then several of us began a trek across town – across two or three towns, really, to attend a carol service and midnight mass at one of the local Episcopal churches.

On the way, even though we were in different cars, several of us were listening to a Christmas eve service broadcast on the radio from some Presbyterian church. While I felt that that minister was in strong need of an editor, something that he said struck me and hasn’t left me since. He mentioned that there were 365 separate instances in the Bible of people being told “Don’t be afraid.” It’s not always phrased the same way, but the sentiment repeats, “once for each day of the year.”

Somehow that flowed into the homily at the Episcopal church. The rector there is a woman with a delicate voice that belies her strong convictions, and I thought it was interesting hearing the birth of Jesus story from a mother’s perspective. She reminded us that while the stories we hear are generally sanitized, childbirth is messy, especially if you’re doing it in a barn.

All three homilies we heard that night were vastly different, and yet, all had something more in common than the celebration of Christmas. All encouraged us to acknowledge fear, to work through it, to move forward, and to go out into the world with light and love.

As for me, when I hear or read the the words “Be not afraid,” or “fear not” I don’t take it as a literal warning to quell fear, but to accept that fear is a valid response as long as we don’t let it cripple us.

My friend Deb wrote about the way fear cripples her as a writer, at times, and I know it sometimes does the same to me, so on this night, I’m making a pact with myself, and with Deb, to write something for myself every day.

Even if it’s scary.

Seven Days: a Lesson in Perspective

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Late last week, Chris and I received some devastating news: his brother-in-law, a man I know to be brilliant, vibrant, kind, and funny, who has been fighting brain cancer for about a year, was given a new prognosis: days to live instead of months. As soon as we heard, we began making plans to head north to Iowa, intending to say goodbye, which we prefer to attending a funeral. (I dislike seeing people I love looking like wax fruit, and prefer to see people when there’s still some there there.)

We’d barely had time to process the news, what with church on Sunday, a Valentine’s Day dinner that had been planned for a while, and various other ordinary distractions, when we received another call, this one early this morning, with even worse news: He’d slipped into a coma, and the estimate was now seven days.

Our car is in the shop, and won’t be ready til Friday, so we can’t really leave any sooner than we originally planned, but this means our plans for a nice vacation to Seattle for our anniversary next month (15 years! Woo!) may have to be scrapped, or at least tabled. I’m not complaining – family comes first, and it’s important that we go, and support Fuzzy’s sister and daughters, and help where we can, and make our own goodbyes.

But I can’t help but think about what seven days can mean.

For a person in a coma, seven days can mean the difference between an easy death, or one full of pain.
It can mean the difference between people holding your hand and saying goodbye, or people visiting your grave.

For an Olympic athlete, it can mean the difference between attempt and success, or the difference between being known in your own community, or throughout the entire world.

For a traveler, it can mean the difference between a room in a friend’s house, a cushy hotel, and their own bed.

For a dog in a shelter, it can be the difference between being a stray, and being rescued, or adoption and euthanasia.

Seven days can be merely a week, or an infinite amount of time. Or both.

Last October, we spent seven days in New York and New Jersey, celebrating a wedding, visiting old friends, reconnecting with family, and exploring old haunts. On Columbus Day, Fuzzy and I visited Fort Hancock, NJ, and climbed the Sandy Hook lighthouse. He took the picture at the top of the post.

Seven days before that, I’d had the flu.
Seven days after, I’d realized how much my New Jersey childhood still informs my being.

Seven days from tonight, we’ll probably be in Iowa.