Avoiding Advent

By the logic of the Roman-based Christian liturgical year, October 17 should have been the perfect date for my wife to have died. We were days away from Samhain, when the veil between living and dead fades to almost nothing, just as the nights grow long. Then come All Saints and All Souls. Everyone is remembering their dead, lighting their candles, maybe putting pictures on a home altar. This short month of closeness shrivels too quickly into Advent, a season for preparing for new life to burst in. Bible readings sing out hope and help to come.

Seems like it would be perfect for a new widow.

Not for this one.

The death I worry about most is not my wife, now released from a terrible long-term disease, but the person, the soul, she unveiled from within me. Lynne always called herself a “soft butch.” She cut her hair blunt, wore work boots and worn jeans, but her shirts told a different story. Her favorite color was “desert rose,” a heathered kind of mauve. Teal and blue brought out her beautiful eyes. On her right arm a bright blue-green turtle flowed and shimmered.

I have always had a hard exterior, despite the feminine clothes and long hair. Who knows why, but so it was. She found and nurtured the softness longing to break forth from inside me. She had a firm self-discipline I totally lack, and the only way I developed any of it was to execute things she wanted in order to earn her praise. In a way we were the same: fake tough exteriors to protect two vulnerable hearts.

That is why Advent scares me. She brought out my best self, and I worry we didn’t have enough years for me to confirm that vision into good habits. As the house starts feeling more like mine, does that mean her tenderness is leaving, too? As I start forming or reforming relationships that do not include her presence, will I manage to bring the social skills that she (and her family) had finally begun to instill? I’m not talking about public acts of charity, but the private ones, the personal moments that help other people feel with me the way I felt with her.

This is why Advent scares me this year. I tell myself that the coming of God in the world confirms I will have assets I cannot name or describe. But she was the asset that worked, and all I can imagine, as Advent blossoms into a new life, that the good we had will pass away with the challenges.

Statistically, autumn has an unusual pace of both births and deaths. Ther are many others going through this with me. The new parens worry they will never again get enough sleep, have sex, or spend a quiet afternoon with a book or music. The newly bereaved are probably looking at holiday decorations — manger scenes, menorahs — and seeing only the person not there this year to share them.

So here’s to all of us, the folks who aren’t feeling it this year. Advent will come for each of us, regardless of faith language, in its own time and way. Don’t feel you have to rush into it now; what we are given is a calendar, not a prison.

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