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Kittredge: Advent

11/28/11 7:55AM By Susan Cooke Kittredge
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(Host) All world religions have particular seasons that are dedicated to reflection and contemplation. Commentator Susan Cooke Kittredge observes that - in sharp contrast to the frantic drum roll to Christmas we are apt to experience - Advent is just such a time.

(Kittredge) Yesterday was the first day of Advent; in the Christian tradition it's a season of contemplation and preparation. In contrast to frenzied holiday preparations, it's a call to honest reflection, a time to figure out why we might need some saving in the first place.

Many years ago I had an experience that clarified for me the meaning of Advent.

In 1988 my parents came to Vermont for Thanksgiving as they did most years. My father, who was then 80, loved Vermont but was always a little uneasy at first; coming from Manhattan he was startled by the rural life I lead. Until he settled in, he was on edge, but on this particular trip he never did settle down. It seemed to me that we could do nothing right. I don’t remember his saying one nice thing all weekend; the kids were too boisterous, the cake not sweet enough, the turkey dry, the house cold, the dog too affectionate, the TV reception pathetic, the roads icy, and on and on. He and my mother flew back to the city on Saturday, and I brooded for a day. I felt I had lost him, that he was dead to me, that there was no sense in his visiting if he was going to be so miserable. At the start of Advent I was in a foul place, a desert of sorts; I was cross and hurt and sad.

But Advent is about honesty and hope—small voices that often cry out in the wilderness of our confusion--so on Sunday afternoon I called my mother—I have only so much courage—and in tears, told her how I was feeling.

Early on Monday morning she called back. She said that she’d told my father the night before what I’d said and that he’d been completely shocked. He had no idea that he’d been behaving that way, no idea that he had hurt the most important people in his life. Mum said that he had wanted to call that night but was so sad and upset that he couldn’t.

Around nine am the phone rang. It was Daddy. He said he was very sorry, that he had had a lovely time and that the last thing in the world he wanted to do was to hurt us. “Please believe me,” he said, his voice cracking. And I told him the truth; I told him that I did believe him. What I didn’t do was brush it off as I might have done another time and say, “It’s okay, it’s nothing.” It was something, but what was more was what was happening right then. I told him that I loved him , that I didn’t want to lose him, and I knew in that moment that I never would.

It’s not always easy, but as the holidays near it’s worth remembering that the greatest gift we can give is an honest and welcoming heart.
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