On Advent and Expectation

Beginning early last spring and well into the hot months of summer, I found myself thinking of the season of Advent, even though that season — the four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve — was months away.

The reason was that for the first time I was “with child.”

For Christians, Advent is a season of “expectant waiting and preparation” for the birth of Jesus at Christmastime. It’s also a reminder of the Israelites’ waiting for the birth of a messiah and Christians’ anticipation of the second coming of Christ.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin “adventus,” meaning “coming” or “arrival.”

“(Advent) helps us engage in the spiritual meaning of waiting and preparing,” a pastor explained to me once. “We are so productivity oriented (today) that just waiting feels like wasted time. The text (for Advent) has to do with waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”

It’s no surprise to me that when people talk about having a baby, they say they are “expecting.” The process is more than the conception or the birth; it is also the monthslong journey of preparing your body and mind to nurture this child, while it is within you and when it comes into the world.

I don’t mean to equate my baby’s arrival with the birth of the Son of God (and my apologies to anyone who may be offended by a comparison). But during those months, as my belly squirmed with life, my heart grew calm with anticipation and I readied myself and my life to embrace this child, I felt the process to be sacred.

That a baby requires nine months (or in my case, eight months!) to develop gives you time to prepare, to challenge yourself, to try to become the person you want to be to parent this child and to welcome it with a sure and open heart.

And pregnancy has a lot of waiting: Waiting to find out if you are pregnant, waiting for the first ultrasound to see the baby. Waiting for test results, first hints of movement, the second ultrasound, finding out (or not) whether it is a boy or girl. Waiting to see which pregnancy symptoms you’ll experience, or for when they will end. Waiting for the big day to arrive when you welcome your baby into the world.

Even so, I felt the months went by quickly. It seemed a matter of days between sitting in a doctor’s office hearing the good news and heading to the hospital with delivery on the horizon. I’m thankful for the intervening months, in which I could at moments rest my palms and fingertips on my belly and reflect on how fortunate I felt to have been chosen to bring this creature into the world.

It was not a journey that I always expected to have. Since my early 20s, doctors told me I likely would have trouble conceiving or carrying a child, and that there could be above-average risks if I did. By the time I was in my late 30s, the odds of the biological clock seemed likely against me as well.

So when at age 38 (with education, career, marriage, etc. finally in alignment) my husband and I decided to at least try, we expected a long journey that might end in disappointment, or at least a different-than-planned outcome.

Considering the biological processes that must be in sync to create a child, pregnancy itself seems a nearly inconceivable result under ideal circumstances. So we were incredibly excited and surprised to learn I became pregnant in the first month of trying. During the following months, we received each milestone reached, each appointment completed, each day and month of continued pregnancy with gratitude, joy and a certain level of tension, thinking of the next goal to meet. When our son was born, we were almost surprised to have gotten so far – yet here he was!

Creating, bearing and raising a child is a solemn responsibility, but also such a tremendous gift.

During Advent, some churches light candles each week leading up to Christmas. Each candle has a meaning: The first week’s candle is hope; the next, peace. Then joy, and love. I can’t think of better values on which to focus when welcoming a child.

My Crush on Andy Rooney

Longtime CBS contributor Andy Rooney died yesterday at age 92. While most will think of him as the cantankerous commentator sitting at his cluttered desk, delivering critiques of modern contrivances, I had a bit of a crush on him.

Andy Rooney/The Atlantic

“Whaaat?,” you might ask, envisioning Rooney’s epically overgrown eyebrows and habitually hangdog expressions. But this was more than 20 years ago, when I was in high school, and his books I was reading then were published in the 1980s. Sure, he was already a senior citizen. But on the book covers he appeared rakish and charmingly disheveled. (Or maybe his quick wit and sharp observations just softened my teenage heart!). I didn’t think of him as a curmudgeon but as a world adventurer whose experiences influenced his thoughts on topics ranging from current affairs to what he ate in the morning.

Though best known for his “60 Minutes” TV commentaries, Rooney also was a syndicated columnist and published several books of essays. He served in the Army during World War II, writing for The Stars and Stripes and working with journalists Ernie Pyle and Walter Cronkite.

As a high school student, I dreamed of working at such a job — having a regular space to fill with my own thoughts and observations. I wrote a column for my high school newspaper, then my college newspapers. Later, when I became a journalist myself, I made career decisions based on whether I’d be able to — or have hope of having — a coveted square of space to host my point of view.

With his characteristic whining delivery, Rooney’s  “60 Minutes” bits were easy to lampoon. But I looked forward to the segments to see what topic he would choose and what he would say about it. He knew what he thought about subjects as wide as war and as small as the ingredients printed on a product box. Whether on air or in writing, Rooney conserved words, but always used them effectively. His pieces demonstrated biting wit, sometimes scorching sarcasm and microscopically keen observations.

It is those observations that most influenced me as a writer and as a person. He introduced me to a lens that paid close — very close — attention to the details of life, the tools and products we interact with daily, the sights, sounds and flavors we absorb, the trends and personal quirks we encounter. Small things tell stories, whether as they stand alone or when taken as a collection.

“A writer’s greatest pleasure is revealing to people things they knew but did not know they knew,” Rooney once said. “Or did not realize everyone else knew, too.”

Magnifying those small details tells us something about others, ourselves and our shared world.

Though often annoyed or exasperated in his rants, Rooney also wrote memorably of the small joys of life: the solace of a comfortable chair, the value of silence, the pleasures of a nap, the smell of wood or a freshly pressed shirt.

Reading Rooney was one of those small pleasures, amplified manifold.

Mr. Rooney, in light of my high school crush, I say to you: U R 2 Good 2 Be 4 Gotten.