Caregiving Enters a New Season: Miscellanies from Tiriduum in Vermont

Easter has meant different things at different times in my life. You know the flow: from one of the two annual candy days of childhood, to the young adult choice to either ignore it or study it passionately, to the young parenting years of passing along traditions and watching kids grow through them. Then came the post-parenting years of Easter as a model for self-reinventing. Then came gardening and not thinking much about Jesus.

And now I’m turning sixty. What was this last Triduum in my fifties?

Not much church, and none of it focused on Jesus. But all those long weekends at King’s Chapel turn out to have been bulbs well-planted: throughout an apparently non-religious Triduum, little reflections kept popping up at stray moments, illuminating moments that no one would describe as particularly brilliant.

Good Friday turns out to be a great day for reflecting on the transitions of retirement. Familiar life is no longer waning, ebbing, but rapidly passing away. You reach for things that aren’t there, get confused, and look into spaces whose once-empty appearance now shimmer into promising forms. These forms will become shapes, and from these shapes, new structures for new life will arise. But right now, on Good Friday, all you see is that these forms have replaced ghosts and companions you thought would last forever. That you thought you would want to last forever.

Holy Saturday is a quiet day. One never knows quite what to do. Back on Boston, my friend Nina and I used to wonder if it was sacrilegious to feast on Boston’s springtime glory when so recently we’d immersed ourselves not only in the suffering of Jesus, but in the awareness that he undertook that suffering in solidarity of so much human suffering everywhere, all around. Shouldn’t we be showing the same solidarity?

And then Easter. Since my partner sings in the choir, Huntington’s Disease be damned: there are two Hallelujah Choruses to fling joyously toward a congregation whose primary definition of Easter might well be that it’s when you get to hear the choir sing The Hallelujah Chorus. The great thing about each of the Christian seasons is that it starts with good intentions, and, unlike the secular year, provides a reasonable interval to maintain them and then celebrate having done so.

So Easter, this year, for me, marks simply the beginning of another season. As far as seasons go, 2014 for me will be the Year of Candlemas. Because it had neither theological nor outdoor messages this year — just snowstorm after snowstorm, with occasional variations of ice — the weeks from Epiphany to Ground-hog’s Day had the wonderful effect of letting me garden my house. One cleans up after Christmas, takes down a few more decorations each day — but not all of them — to renew the indoor space, moving it, slowly but surely, toward the moment of welcoming new light. And in this legendary year, when those of us who are used to lots of snow and cold set records for snow and cold — in our case, all the way through March —  the endless white surfaces outside spread a perfect canvas for the sun to announce itself differently every day, every hour. 

Just as a clock runs down, the arrival of the new holy renders moot the season which preceded it. Candlemas ends in a cleaning flurry, preparing the home for Lent. But the stripped down home starts accumulating new stuff almost immediately. As the weather warms, new clothes come out and old ones get put away. Mud, gravel, and salt slowly age on the threshholds, and suddenly it seems sensible to clean the floors. 

That didn’t happen this year. Instead she started physical therapy. Lawyer stuff and doctor stuff overrode us. And all of a sudden, friends on Facebook started posting pictures of crocuses, saying that if I ventured out to lift the mulch, I, too, would find little green things. And this year, we’re in the final stages of setting up our own wedding.

Thank God Easter is a whole season. Once again, I’ll be using all six weeks to organize, to beautify, to set up our little piece of heaven for Vermont’s tiny summer. There are indeed little green things poking through, when I rake away the mats of leaf mulch. People are actually planning to join us for our wedding, and smiling about the idea of it. We’ll spend only a few days out of our house, and then, come home to start another season.