Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas Treasures: Aisle 19


“Oh my!” I realized “Christmas is just around the corner!” Literally as I made the turn to aisle 12, amid the $4.00 festive red crock pots stacked precariously on the end cap; Christmas, in all of its material splendor, awaited. Piled high, six aisles wide, as far as the eye could see, Christmas loomed. Blue light illuminating the path, the season of good cheer and full shopping carts beckoned. Four dollars for a crock pot, now that’s a Christmas miracle. The store was full of them, and it wasn’t even November yet. I really didn’t need a two quart red crock pot, so although it didn’t exactly qualify as a treasure, among my other full price purchases it certainly ranked a place of high esteem.
Luckily there was still room in my cart as I cleared the last holiday aisle, because right before my wondering eyes did appear aisle 19, Halloween clearance. Now that’s an aisle I can dive into with gusto; no indecision, no speculating a potentially better price across town. Aisle 19 is only for hearty shoppers. We swoop and we move on. Then I spotted it, the coveted bargain we clearance aisle aficionados dream of, a silvery grey comb over wig. Unexpectantly brilliant among the rainbow clown wigs and oversized diaper pins. The last one too; and who knows when you might need one. I bent over to fish out the treasure, but was beaten to the punch, side swiped by a faster, younger version of myself.
Stunned with disbelief, I set my sights on her. She looked so kind. But she was clutching the wig in triumph. There was no polite, “Oh excuse me. Did you want this wig? Here you take it.” nothing of the sort. She inspected her prize and sighed with relief. Finally she noticed me staring at her.
“I can’t believe I finally found one of these! My son needs it for his part in the Grandparents Day program at our school. He is so thrilled to finally have a singing part, not a solo, just a duet. But it’s a big deal to him. My parents are coming.” Her eyes seemed to take on additional weight as she mentioned her parents. I tried not to look interested, not to like her. She was, technically speaking, the unlawful owner of my treasure.
Eyes glued to the wig, brows knotted, I queried.
“Is he supposed to dress up as an old man?” Why was I responding? Why would I engage this stealer of comb over wigs in conversation? Something held me there, in aisle 19. Unlike mine, her cart was empty. Maybe she already had a red crock pot, but for four dollars, who couldn’t use another one?
“Oh no, they’re doing a musical tribute to TV sitcoms, it’s very creative. My son’s singing the theme from “All in the Family” so he has to look like Archie Bunker. He hadn’t any idea what the show was about or who Archie Bunker was, so we’ve been watching reruns on the internet. He really has Archie Bunker’s mannerisms down, it should be very cute.” This woman was beaming with pride. This wig stealing, crock pot-less woman who gave birth to a Carroll O’Connor wanna be, was beginning to grow on me.
“My Dad has cancer. He’s 78, we’re pretty sure this will be his last Grandparent’s Day, so it’s a really big deal. My son’s especially excited. I’ve been looking all over for this wig. I can’t believe I found one for half price. Money is tight this year and” her voice trailed off as she looked into my eyes. She stepped back slightly.
“I’m so sorry to go rattling on. I’m sure you’re busy. It’s just such a blessing to have found this, on sale even. You know sometimes it feels like God isn’t even listening, but then He answers some little prayer in a big way and I know that He is.” She tossed the wig into her cart and smiled.
“Enjoy your day” she said as she pushed her practically empty cart past me down the aisle.
“You too, Good luck with the show.” I replied. What I wanted to say was, “I’m sorry about your Dad. I’m sorry about cancer and heartbreak and not having enough money.” As I turned my cart back toward the Christmas merchandise, I so wished there was an end cap display of miracles for her. Maybe the hem of Jesus’ garment to touch or a “buy one get one free” special on mats to load her Dad up on, so we could carry him to Jesus.
Then I realized it. It appeared like a silvery grey comb over wig in the midst of clown shoes and dried vampire blood. Her miracle was right there on aisle 19, and like the disciples she had the wisdom to want to share it with Me. I retraced my steps through the Christmas aisles, systematically unloading my cart. I wanted it be empty, hopeful, anticipating whatever Jesus had in store for me. Except the red crock pot, I kept that. Christmas was right around the corner
I decided it was time to go home, watch an “All in the Family” re-run on the internet. I filled my new red crock pot with hot chocolate. As I curled up with the patchwork afghan my grandmother made me when I was young, I said a prayer for my clearance aisle friend and her family and smiled at thought of her son with a comb over wig and a cigar in his mouth. The treasure I’d found that day was tucked away, but my cart felt full. Christmas was right around the corner and it was time to make room, unexpected things happen all the time.
The End

Dread's Chauffeur

Chemo days ebb and flow.
The tide pulls way back the night before,
exposing elusive treasures on the ocean floor.
I call to check, to make sure Debbie takes her Ativan.
It will be easier tomorrow if she sleeps.

Getting to the car is the worst part.
I know she won’t be ready.
We trudge through wet sand.
There will be the packing of her bag,
and pouring orange juice mixed with warm tap water - cold hurts Debbie now.
A message for the kids and looking for her sweater, the black one, and her warm socks –
“Wait, I just need one more thing” as she plods back up the stairs.
This is when the wave begins to swell.
“Debbie, we really have to go now”.
I am dread’s chauffeur

The car ride is better
We talk easily about husbands and bosses,
about sixth grade teachers and kids.
Always the crest of the conversation is her family.
We laugh and remember why we are fighting so hard,
and the apprehension subsides.

On good days
Jenny will be Debbie’s nurse.
It is hit and miss with nurses.
Jenny knows about the drip, that it has to be really, really slow.
She knows about the cold spray, how Debbie tastes it as it numbs the port.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath too, but try as I might to do some of this for her,
I can’t taste a thing.
Each night I bend down to carry some of the anxiety,
to guard Debbie from the wave threatening to crash around her,
but when I look past the IV monitor into her eyes,
I see its reflection looming,
dead ahead.



Warmed blankets are our sunshine.
I gather up the shovels and pails and we head out
In search of those who were blessed enough to wander
onto our little stretch of beach.

We pray for their mothers and their children
and night school courses. We pray for a nurse’s sore feet.
The small cubicle fills with saints as we invoke their help in our crusade.
We are constructing sand castles, elaborate fortresses of faith.
We forget about the wave.
Familiar words, blessings, the rosary beads between our fingers,
these are the foundation of our structure.
The wave slaps Debbie with injected poison and goes on its way,
but the castle stands.
As the tide flows past her onto the shore,
Debbie drifts to sleep,
and I am left alone
with God.

To Wait or Not To Wait



Advent is defined as the arrival of something momentous that has been long awaited. Marking the beginning of the liturgical calendar, it is the season of hope. For God’s chosen people, Advent heralds the fulfillment of a long awaited promise, the promise that God and His beloved children will one day be reunited. The Old Testament chronicles the journey of humanity along the path of salvation. It is a story of waiting, sometimes in faith, but more often not.

In the New Testament the Messiah arrives, salvation is at hand, and yet still we wait. We know the promise has been fulfilled but much of the time, we don’t feel it. The trials I experience lead me to unrest. So I wait. I continue on the journey, resting briefly each year at this juncture, to anticipate Immanuel, God with us. I stop momentarily on that well trodden path and rest by the side of the road, my respite illuminated by the light of a star. In recalling the journeys of my predecessors, hopefully I will not only learn to avoid the potholes of distrust my circumstances carve out, but I will learn to trust that God’s mercy will surround me when I stumble.

How hard was it for Sarah, wife of Abraham, to hold on to the promise of descendents as her body aged beyond child bearing years? She was a woman of faith and obedience. Abraham hadn’t always steered her to safety, but God had intervened to ensure her sanctity. So as the years past and her already withering body decayed even further, she did what we so often do with the promise when circumstances appear contradictory to its achievement, we step in. She believed, but she was tired of waiting. She believed, but she thought God might need a little help, or maybe God helps those who help themselves. Abraham once again let her down. He cashed in on the compromise. Although the negative consequences of their choices were severe, God kept His promise. The Messiah came through Abraham and Sarah. God’s faithfulness despite our failings is unwavering. Further along the path, the disciples also doubt the fulfillment of the promise, even when they are sitting with Jesus in the boat, close enough to touch him. The severity of the wind and the waves holds their faith captive. Their fingers clenched around the edges of the boat, they shout at Jesus in terror, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" (Mark 4:38) The ultimate irony, who knows better than Jesus that we are perishing? Who could possibly care more than Jesus, who will suffer and die for our sins and bear our infirmities, so that we will not perish, but have eternal life?

“Hush, be still” Jesus said to the wind and waves” (Mark 4:39)

Advent is the beacon on the road to salvation where the promise meets the storm and all is calm. The potholes forged by our doubt and disobedience are laid smooth. We feel renewed confidence to continue on the journey. Hope triumphs over chaos. A young girl, full of grace, gazes into the face of an angel and believes. Her circumstances don’t improve, but she trusts in the promise. Advent marks the moment of convergence, almighty God and His beloved creation. “May it be done unto me according to your word” should be our only response. (Luke 1:38b) For a moment, the debris from the storm clears. Our hearts are still, no longer anxious. We wait in hope.

“Hush, be still”

“God is with us”

“Amen”