I remember fondly viewing “The Hobbit” for the first time on the morning of Christmas Eve. Such a long wait, it seemed. And as many times as I am likely to watch the film again (as we did less than a week later in IMAX 3-D), I can’t ever see it again for the first time.
There’s something in that feeling akin to the close of advent. We’ve done it again – Christmas is come and gone (though our smarter liturgical brothers and sisters aren’t done for a few more days). And it wasn’t like the first time or like anytime ever before.
While waiting, it seemed that the coming would never take place, and once Christmas – or whatever it is – arrives, the coming dashes expectations. Everytime. Even if it exceeds those expectations. It’s never what we expect. We can’t predict what the coming will feel like. We can’t control it. We can’t stop it.
For all this blah-blah-blahgging about the agonies of waiting, there’s irony that once the day was upon us, regardless of whether we shopped or baked or not, whether we deepened the experience of the season with quiet reflection or just bustled December away, whether we waited well or impatiently or unawares, there was no going back, no slowing it down, no stopping it. The coming came, ready or not.
And we are mostly unmoved. Not untouched. Not unjostled. And for many, not unemotional and not without joy or even without life change. But unmoved nonetheless. We still are what we were. We face the undoneness of what we had faced before the awaited new thing had come and gone. (And it always does come and go on this side of the eschaton.)
Reminds me of that feeling of going to a place for the first time and it taking forever to get there (especially an uphill hike). Then the return trip goes by in a blink. Or even the opposite type of hike, as Anthony and I did into the Grand Canyon last June: the down-and-in was the easy part of the hike and the up-and-out was the supposed hard part. Still, the familiarity of the return trip made it seem anticlimactic. And we both were seized with the reality that we could have gone much farther down past the scary “death awaits you” signs. We had enough water, food, and energy to spare. But it’s too late now that we’re back at the rim and the hike is done. It’s time for something else.
Would that we had another chance to go back and do it again. Take the hike up or in for the first time. The slowness. The agony of the distance and the unknown. The long wait. Only this time, we swear to savor it more. The first sight of the peak. The drawing nigh. The breathlessness. The moment of arrival. Because once that new thing has been juiced, into the compost it goes. And it never will be new again to us except when God makes all things that way. Which sounds like a lot more waiting to me. Just what I asked for!
Reminds me also of the day after I got married, the day after we had our first child, and the day after “the dear Christ entered in” for the first time. Exhilarating moments. Exceeded expectations. Good news of great joy. Everything is totally different. And yet not so totally different as I would have expected. I am still me. Now saved, yes. Now married, yes. Now a father, three times over. Never alone. But still myself. Still hungry. Still wanting. Still waiting. I remember that feeling well as it is what I am feeling right now.
Oddly enough, it was the same with my mom’s death. The quickness and the horror were unspeakable while it was happening. And yet, her death arrived on October 2, 2012, and our lives trudged forward without her. I asked my dad whether Christmas was hard without her, and his profound response, “No harder than every other day.”
Death’s and life’s refusal to relent have a kind of authority to still tears, cheers, and even my seemingly endless flow of words. As I turn from a genuinely traumatic 2012 and set my sights on (please God, not again) 2013, I am stunned to silence.