Reflections in the Quiet

Reflections in the Quiet

This month began with my 55th birthday. I anticipated this milestone with some anxiety, because it was at Christmas, 1970, that my grandfather died of a heart attack while on a business trip to Galesburg, Illinois. I was 9. That Christmas morning, I opened his final present to me, a beagle puppy that we named “Mitzi.”

In 2009, when I was considering getting back into the National Guard after a fifteen-year break in service, my grandfather’s early death was on my mind. I went to the doctor for a physical that included a stress test, but she assured me I didn’t have to worry. I didn’t have the same risk factors.

For one thing, I’ve lived a much more active life than my grandfather did. I’m still keeping up with much younger Soldiers on ruck marches. And with this birthday, I no longer have to do a two-mile run for my annual Army physical fitness test, but can choose to do a 2 ½ mile walk (which I did the day after my birthday in 29 minutes).

Nevertheless, my reflections on life at this point are characterized increasingly by a kind of “in-between” feeling. I’ve heard friends speak in the same way. Our parents are aging, and where they once cared for us, we are now worried about their care. Our children, for whom we once cared, are in college and grad school, and we have hopes and fears for their lives and loves as they step out on their own as adults.

Those topsy-turvy feelings can lead to depression at this time of year. Kids aren’t home for Christmas. Maybe we can’t go to see our parents (either because of distance or their passing). We stay home and the house is quieter. No longer do expectant faces waken us early on Christmas morning to unwrap the presents we stayed up late to place under the tree.

But that same space can allow us to enjoy the reflective quality of the season. We can sit at home together, with the lights on the tree and music in the background, with no need to do anything. It can also give us the freedom to be spontaneous, as when we were first married—that’s what we did last Christmas, when on the spur of the moment we decided to spend our Christmas vacation hiking at Big Bend National Park.

It can also be a season of patient hope and expectancy. I’ve loved the pre-Christmas season of Advent because of this; since my days as a student in a Lutheran seminary we have celebrated it deliberately. With an Advent candle, lighting one candle each week for four weeks. With an Advent calendar, opening the doors to reveal new surprises.

Those images capture what I’ve enjoyed about this blog—the expectation that our mature years can be a time of new life, new experiences, richer meanings, and deeper thoughts. I’m grateful to Tim for the invitation to contribute to it.

Bill Cork

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