Getting into the proper spirit

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By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor
EVERY YEAR AT this time, I have to admit that I have failed yet again to get into the proper spirit of Advent — that is, I admit that when I find time to think about it at all.
    This is not my fault. Advent — which the church tells us Catholics should be a time of quiet, contemplative reflection and anticipation — couldn’t possibly come at a worse time. I mean, it’s just before Christmas! I don’t know about you, but the month for me consists of longer hours than usual at work — backing up co-workers taking those vacation days they have to take or lose (and which they richly deserve, let me piously add) — with every minute of nights and weekends taken up with social obligations, pageants and other things you’re too harried to enjoy the way you should, and the patriotic imperative of shopping more than you do in all the other 11 months combined.
    When our kids were little, my wife would gather the family each evening — when I got away from work early enough, even I took part — for a little Advent wreath-lighting ceremony at our kitchen table. Just thinking about that, and how long ago it was, makes my heart hurt — which is not very descriptive, but I can think of no better way to put it. Sort of the way Scrooge felt witnessing Christmases Past. Lately, I have only been mindful of Advent during one hour on Sunday, with the church’s much-bigger wreath up there next to the altar. I think, one, two, three candles… must be the third Sunday of Advent… I wonder if I could swing by Harbison on my way home….
    That’s the extent of my mindfulness of the season.
    On Monday — as the U.S. economy continued spiraling downward, the University of South Carolina announced its plans for $39 million in budget cuts, a state panel called for K-12 teachers’ salaries to be frozen, Congress and the White House furiously negotiated a doomed bailout of Detroit automakers, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (in his last hours of freedom) dared the feds to listen in on his conversations, and the odiferous mess at the Columbia sewer plant continued to reek — it suddenly came to my attention that I had three weeks of vacation coming to me that I was going to lose, which happened to be more time than there was left in our fiscal year. Which was neither here nor there; I knew we were far too busy for me to take any of it off, so nothing to be done about it…
    … when suddenly, a voice somewhere deep inside me said, Dammit, I’m gonna have me some down time during Advent if it kills me — which is not exactly the attitude that the church prescribes, but it was as close as I was going to get. I saw that nobody else in my department was off on Wednesday and Thursday, so on Tuesday I whipped out an editorial against the Detroit bailout deal, told everybody I’d see them Friday, and took off before anyone had recovered enough from the shock to stop me.
    What did I do with the time? This is the good part: I spent the days taking care of my 11-month-old twin granddaughters. One of them had scared us with a bout of the croup earlier in the week (one visit to the doctor, another to the ER) and still had a raspy cough, their mother (my oldest) had to get back to work after taking off those days, my wife was jammed up with commitments and suffering from a bad cold herself, and my son-in-law was in a neck brace from falling off of scaffolding remodeling their house. I won’t tell you what was happening with the rest of our four kids, except to say everyone had a lot to deal with — some of it very painful and difficult, and too personal to go into. But for once, I was able to be there for my family for at least one of the many things they needed that week — which I think was a bigger shock to them than to the people at work.
    Here’s what I did on Wednesday: I got up earlier than I do on workdays. I took my older granddaughter, who had spent the night with us, to her house to change clothes, then to school. I picked up the twins and took them to my house. I fed them breakfast, one in my lap and the other sitting in the busy saucer play station thingy — one spoonful for you, and one for you…. I changed their diapers. We played with blocks on the living room rug. I changed their diapers again. I carried them upstairs for their naps. When they woke up, I changed their diapers again and took them on a quick walk around the block (the most exercise I’d had in weeks) before mixing up their lunch. My mom dropped by (normally, I never see my parents during the work week) and fed one while I fed the other. We played peek-a-boo, which convinces them I’m the world’s greatest wit for having thought it up. I fixed them some bottles, and my mom and I held them while they drank them dry (these are the world’s most cooperative babies; they eat what you feed them, and go to sleep at nap time). I changed their diapers again, and carried them up for their second naps, and then their mother came to get them.
    On Thursday, we did the same, with slight variations. Each time at the end of the day, my daughter thanked me for keeping them, which means that she had it exactly backward.
    No, it wasn’t a time of quiet prayer and contemplation. And yet, it was. Those two days grounded me in a kind of physical, emotional and spiritual sanity that was, for me in December, an altered state. I can’t really explain it. Let’s just say that when I got back to work and found that the world was still talking about Rod Blagojevich and the Detroit bailout, and our state budget was being cut another $383 million, with the brunt hitting education and health care, I longed to be doing something that made as much sense as changing a poopy diaper. Or better yet, two of them. Changing dirty diapers makes sense, to the changer and the changee, and the process is far less objectionable than looking at, or thinking about, Gov. Blagojevich.
    You know what? Nobody else is off this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. Don’t look for me here on those days.

Get into the spirit at thestate.com/bradsblog/.

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16 thoughts on “Getting into the proper spirit

  1. david

    We sang my favorite Christmas carol this morning in church:
    Oh little town of Bethlehem
    how still we see thee lie,
    Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
    the silent stars go by.
    Yet in thy dark streets shineth
    the everlasting Light.
    The hopes and fears of all the years
    are met in thee tonight.
    The Saviour. Family. Friends and fellowship. The goodness of God expressed as a Grandfather lovingly changes diapers on his grand youngins. This is the timelessness of Christmas.
    The evil in the world knows nothing of Christmas. I read in a news story somewhere that Blagojevich met and prayed with ministers today. Isn’t that just grand? Doesn’t that warm your heart? The gospel of John says the Light shined in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.
    Indeed.
    Dave

    Reply
  2. p.m.

    The light seems to be shining in your grandtwins, too, Brad, and I daresay they appear to comprehend it.
    Have a holly, jolly Christmas
    It’s the best time of year.
    Between golf seasons, that is.
    Begging Burl Ives’ forgiveness, a merry Christmas to all, be ye liberal short or conservative tall, and to all a good night.

    Reply
  3. gayguy

    Just dropped my 13 year-old niece off at the Siberia of Education.We had a small argument about her sartorial decisions before exchanging “i luv u’s”.
    I miss the poopy diapers…

    Reply
  4. bud

    I vaguely remember the days when my own twins were in diapers. They are now 16. I didn’t get much sleep back then. Still don’t thinking about teenagers driving. Brad, you have a fine looking set of grand children.
    Speaking of getting into the spirit. The dude who threw the shoes at the president certainly was expressing his “spirited” thinking by his antics. Apparently in Iraq throwing shoes is the greatest symbol of disrespect someone can show towards another person. Poor ole George, with an approval rating of under 30% he is certainly the Rodney Dangerfield of POTUSes. Has there ever been a president with a bigger gap between his highest (90%) and lowest (about 25%) approval ratings?

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  5. Bart

    Purposely showing someone the sole of your shoe in the Middle East is the height of insults. I guess throwing the shoe is literally the manifest expression of “hurling insults” at your opponent or enemy. Looked like George has become adept at dodging insults, even the physical ones.
    But, he took it in stride :) His comments were humorous and he didn’t get angry at the man.
    Maybe we should allow the throwing of shoes at politicians in this country when they screw up. It would give the economy a boost especially in the shoe industry since there are so many targets available.
    Or, maybe we should have our elected representatives participate in an open forum like the British do and let the insults and invectives fly with complete abandon between the parties. It is actually fun to watch, especially when Tony Blair was PM. Can you even imagine an exchange between some of the more heated rivalries in the Senate or House? Now that would be television worth watching.

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  6. penultimo mcfarland

    Funny, bud, but an Iraqi dissing our president in person should make you angry. You’re so partisan, though, you just see it as another excuse to throw stones.

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  7. bud

    p.m. be honest for a moment. Would you be upset if someone hurled a shoe or two at Bill Clinton or Barack Obama? I suggest you lighten up a bit. George has been a disgrace to the world and the Iraqi reporter was simply expressing what hundreds of people feel.
    But give W a bit of credit. He showed the dexterity of a 20 year old by ducking. Of course he’s ducked many questions from reporters over the years so he’s obviously mastered the technique. He’s very adept at ducking when the situation calls for it.

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  8. Ozzie

    Probably offering a person the left hand, the one that is used to clean oneself after going to the toilet, is an even greater, though obviously more subtle, insult. It was done to Condoleeza Rice on one of her visits to the Middle East, though I can’t link to it right now.

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  9. p.m.

    Bud, believe it or not, I wouldn’t want anybody to throw a shoe at Barack Obama.
    You should be worried, however, what Blagoyevich will throw at Obama if the man occupying the “Office of the President Elect” helps bring him down.
    Could Obama become the first president impeached before his inauguration?

    Reply

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