I began this week basking in the glow of Gaudete Sunday. The thrill I get when it’s time to light the pink, ahem, ROSE candle in the Advent wreath is a little ridiculous. It’s just a candle, after all. And yet, I fully appreciate the placement of rose in the third week rather than the fourth. It’s a little wake-up call, a sudden bright spot that urges us forward before it’s too late.
My Gaudete spirit only increased when I went to a nursing home with my parish’s youth ministry group last Sunday to sing carols and distribute little Christmas crafts. As we sang O Come All Ye Faithful, I spied a tiny woman hunched down in a wheelchair just to my right, singing away and smiling at me. She waved me over, and I tried to understand what she wanted me to do. Something with the Christmas craft. We tried to communicate in loud whispers so as not to disrupt the young girl reading from the Gospel of Luke, but I finally gave up and squatted down near her wheelchair to wait for a break in the show.
As I knelt there next to her, she leaned over from her chair and put her arm around me, squeezed my shoulder, and smiled. She did that at least three more times in the span of a few minutes. Talk about a bright spot in my week. When we finally managed to get back to the craft and what she wanted me to do, it became clear: She wanted me to have the Christmas decoration meant to hang on her door. After my futile attempts to make her keep it, I thanked her and took it home, promising myself I’d pray for Ruth whenever I saw it.
Then, due to the alignment — or misalignment — of a few events (too confusing to go into here), my rose-y spirit began to dampen and darken. Gone is the joy I had felt only days ago, gone is the hope that is supposed to be building with each day until it reaches its crescendo on Christmas, gone is my interest in or motivation for prayer. Zippo. Nada. Nothing. Darkness.
And so, during this season of dark and light, I find myself going in the wrong direction at the wrong time. Maybe it’s meant to be this way. Maybe I’m supposed to experience the heart of John’s Gospel in a real and felt way, knowing once and for all that the darkness can never overcome the light.
Rather than skipping through this week of Advent, I’m plodding and brooding and wishing the season would be over and done with. Then I stop and remember Ruth, smiling and singing from her wheelchair in a nursing home where life — as pleasant as the staff tries to make it — is difficult, at best. Every day. For Ruth and so many others like her — my almost-98-year-old grandmother, for example — life is never going to get easier at this point, and yet they carry on with the same determination and spirit that got them to this point.
I think Ruth was placed in my life last Sunday for a reason. When I find myself sinking into self-pity over my un-Christmasy feelings this week, I see her smiling face and feel her little squeeze around my shoulder and remember that light can come into our lives in the most unexpected ways and the most unlikely places. We just have to be willing to open the door to it.