The first day of Advent arrived and I attended church, which was a little weird. I haven’t been to church in ages. An elderly lady greeter in a pink facemask God blessed me when I entered.
I slipped into service to see an old priest offering a homily to five socially distanced people. I was sitting in the back pew as an observer.
Pink Facemask guarded the door and smiled at me with her eyes whenever I looked back at her.
“Hi,” she would say.
I bowed my head at all the proper times, and mumbled when I was supposed to mumble. But I’m not a liturgical guy, so I was basically just reciting the lyrics to “Louie Louie” behind my mask.
The message was short. The gist of the clergyman’s Advent sermon was an old classic: “find the good in the world.”
And I couldn’t help but think that at this exact moment our world is dealing with 1.46 million COVID deaths. Not to mention 266,000 in the U.S. Where’s the good in that?
Sometimes this humble writer asks himself where the heck is all the good? Heaven knows, if you look for good in newspapers or cable news it won’t be there because journalists sure as Shinola aren’t digging any up. Many news persons wouldn’t know “good” if it jumped up and bit them in the Associated Press.
But I’m not criticizing here. Neither am I throwing rocks at modern journalism. I’m simply saying that for almost an entire year the majority of reports you always see are about pure horror.
Now here it is Advent, and this old priest is pleading with a bunch of weary people to take a few moments to think of something other than how the word is crumbling.
So I did.
The first thing I thought about was an email I got this morning from a guy named Joe. He told me that this summer he took his dying mother to see nearly every state in the Western U.S. in a rented RV. It was the last year of her life. They saw every natural wonder there was.
When they returned home, both exhausted, depleted, and in good spirits, she squeezed her son’s hand and thanked him for “letting me see our beautiful country before I go home.”
And how about Marla in West Virginia? Marla adopted four dogs from a shelter who were from the same litter. They were 7 years old. They had all been living at the shelter since birth. The animals were never adopted because, according to shelter staff, nobody wants older dogs.
Until one day, along came a 40-something widow named Marla.
She adopted all four and took them to her 32-acre farm. For three blissful years they made a magnificent family. They slept in Marla’s bed. They ate her food. Marla even made them individual birthday cakes for their special days.
Currently the brothers’ ashes reside on her mantle.
There’s also Jake, a 62-year-old guy in North Georgia who lost his job during the pandemic, then lost his house.
He could have gotten depressed, but instead he decided to pursue bluegrass mandolin. So a few days after the bank took his house, he bought a cheap mandolin online and started video lessons to teach himself.
Yesterday, his adult children showed up unannounced at Jake’s place and gave him a top-of-the-line mandolin, which probably cost thousands. “We’re all here for you, Dad, no matter how bad it gets,” was the greeting his children gave.
When he saw the expensive instrument, Jake’s face split wide open.
“I think,” Jake tells me, “sometimes I just forget how much my family means to me.”
And don’t forget about young Reese, in Mooresville, North Carolina. Reese heard about a soup kitchen that gives food to needy families and she immediately started doing something to help.
As it happens, North Carolina is not in good shape food-wise. Since the pandemic, almost 2 million North Carolinians are not food secure. Meaning, they probably don’t know where supper is coming from.
Reese began collecting money the old fashioned way, by hard work. She raised a whopping $1,050, which she used to buy 107 turkeys, 35 hams, 48 cans of cranberries, and 48 boxes of dressing this Thanksgiving.
“She’s just a different soul,” said Reese’s mother. “When we were collecting, people in the store would give looks, asking where the party was, or they’d say ‘Hey, are you gonna buy this place out?’
“Every time Reese’s answer was, ‘It’s for the soup kitchen, they need turkeys. Are you giving?’
“And as we were checking out, there were a lot of people looking at us, and Reese would say, ‘It’s okay, Mom, the more people we tell the more people will give.’”
Thanks to Reese, and others like her, the small food pantry served 261 children, 430 adults, and 129 seniors over the holiday.
Reese is 9 years old.
Maybe that’s the kind of stuff the old priest was talking about. Maybe he was telling me to get out there and find the stuff that I can never seem to find on my tiny glowing screen. Maybe the old clergyman is right.
When service was done, I slipped out the door, thinking about what he’d said. But I wasn’t fast enough to avoid the elderly church greeter in the pink mask. She pumped liquid hand sanitizer into my palms then told me in a heartfelt voice to “Be a blessing, today, sweetie.”
I crawled into my truck and watched people in surgical-blue facewear file out of the nondescript chapel on a rainy Sunday, marveling at how much our world has changed.
And right then, right there, I decided that for this Advent season, I am going to do my best to heed that church greeter’s advice.