Until I was about 32 years old, I had never heard of advent. I grew up either southern Baptist or Evangelical Christian, or some weird combination of the two, and we didn’t have advent. But one day, when my daughter was about 4 and we’d just moved to Charlotte, we walked by a church down the block from us and she said she wanted to go there (I hadn’t been to church in ages), so we gave it a shot.
That year, I experienced my first advent. We did all the stuff. We went to church for children’s time and made an advent wreath. I took all of the materials for children that our church distributed at that time, and we read the daily section of the advent booklet each night from the end of November until Christmas eve. Every night at dinner in our tiny apartment kitchen, we lit our candles over supper. There was a kind of magic to it. It was hope, which is the first Sunday of Advent’s theme.
Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent and I didn’t make it to church for the lighting of the first candle or the hanging of the greens or any of the festivities. Because mainly, this season and the last few actually, hope has been a difficult thing some days. But this week, I decided I wanted to sit down and write about hope. I realized as I opened up to hope this week, knotting holiday greens and lights around my bike tire and getting my hands dirty, putting up lights, experiencing children who are exhausted already from the exhilaration of the season, pulling out coats and blankets to donate to the probably cold people in Standing Rock, buying an overpriced ticket to see my daughter at Christmas, that hope came knocking.
It came knocking in the form of the anoles (lizards) that live on our campus at school. This year we’ve had three major incidents of lizard-napping. Several of our boys are fascinated by the anoles, which is wonderful, and they love to imagine their future lives carrying the lizards from place to place, which is not quite as wonderful, at least for the lizard. I’ve talked about respect of life and nature, sharing the planet, and that we and the lizards must be free to live our lives as we see fit (I’ve felt so very wise and mature saying these things, though I think maybe the children roll their eyes when I’m not looking). Still at the end of yesterday, sometime during read aloud, a lizard was set loose in the classroom, and has not been seen or heard from since. The hangers on are still scouring the classroom for him, looking into tiny corners and behind shelves for any small site of wiggly tail or slinking body. They are hoping for it. Every day they go out and search the ground for the quick and tiny lizards, and most days they find at least one, and someone pockets it, takes it to music or tries to get it home. To have a forever friend maybe. It could be that I’ll get to school tomorrow, check my email, and watch a lizard crawl across my keyboard. I can hope anyway. Maybe hope is like a lizard, an unexpected treasure. I know that it’s true that I work with children because of hope. I have known some pretty smart children over the years, who end up being capable of great things, of earth changing ideas and understanding. One of them is my own.
In late October I took a trip with my daughter Madison. I’d decided to go back home after something like twenty seven years. When I was about ten, my Dad’s house building business went bust, our area experienced a recession, and there were no jobs. We struggled our way through for a while, but eventually moved south, where my dad went to work on the Tom Bigbey Water Way in northern Mississippi. I visited only a handful of times after that, and then joined the Army, and never went back.
Madison and I flew into Chicago (our second visit in a strange city this year), and I rented a car. We began our journey across the flat lands of Northern Illinois to Starved Rock State Park. The road from Chicago to Starved Rock State Park (Interstate 80) is mainly flat farmland, with trees and valleys occasionally accompanying a river. The midwest is where a lot of the US’s food is grown and it was during that long drive when Madison began to relay to me all that she’s learned from her anthropology class. She talked about mass farming (though she referred to it in a much more eloquent way), and how we’ve constructed an entire way of life around the production of food. This was never more evident than during our drive through the country that day. All of this land, exclusively used for farming. It was interesting to me, all that this 19 year old knows and all that she’s done in just a year. In a year away from home, my daughter has visited three major cities other than the one she lives in. She decided, and put into action, moving out to live with her dad. During her first month living just outside of Seattle, a high school friend was supposed to be visiting Portland so she got a train ticket to go down and see him. Then his dad got sick and he didn’t make it. She asked what she should do since she’d be going alone. Inwardly terrified, I said, “I think you should go to Portland.” She went. I kept checking to make sure she hadn’t died on the trip, but she made it down there, toured the city, and got home safe. After that she went with some friends, her same age, all the way to San Francisco in a car. I worried she’d die the entire weekend, but she didn’t. Over the summer while I was visiting Portland with friends, she came down again and spent some days with me. I helped her get two friends from HS out to visit with her and she took them on the train up to Seattle and showed them the town. My daughter is hope knocking at the door with all of her energy and curiosity about the world, her work ethic and also all of her integrity and sense of justice. I’m proud that she, and that others like her, are the future…and I feel for what they’ve inherited and what they’ll have to figure out.
During our stay in Illinois, we visited two different Native American historical sites. These sites were the strongholds of my youth in northern Illinois. Our very first stop on our visit through my homeland, was Starved Rock State Park, which we visited so many times when I was young. The second was the Blackhawk Monument, which Madison and I visited with my mom and dad the second day of our trip. It was just as stunning as I remember it being, if not more so. What I thought would happen when I saw that statue again was that it would seem small in comparison to how I saw it in my childhood. We’d drive up to Oregon Illinois to visit family members and especially in the fall, we’d take that route along the Rock River because it is a spectacular site to behold. You’d round a bend and there he would be, on a high hill across the river, at Lowden State Park. There was Blackhawk, larger than life A legend, but also a man who fought for his people, and against losing his land to settlers. The history of Illinois is filled with the clash of native against interloper. It’s even marked down in my own family’s history and part of my own ancestral line.
When you are there, standing under that statue, made of tons of heavy cement, you can almost feel the weight of what was lost. Which brings me full circle, to what I’ve been considering since I came home; Standing Rock. We were in Illinois as the big stories began coming out of Standing Rock. When we’d said our goodbyes and returned home, I became enmeshed, perhaps bolstered by my recent, historical excursion, in the stories coming out of North Dakota. There was one particular video of people praying and having a drum session out in the chilly fall air. Over the past several months there have been many protests, over lots of different things. I believe many people are afraid of the various protests, because they speak to the underlying fear that everything isn’t as it should be. And if other people are anything like myself, we probably all prefer when things are running smoothly and our cracks and brokenness are hidden, instead of right out there on display. I am a parent of a child who is on the autism spectrum, and one of the most freeing places I reached in my journey with her, one of the things that freed us both to grow, was realizing that cracks and flaws should not be hidden, that trying to make everything seem as if all is well when it isn’t, is one of the most damaging things we do to ourselves and our families here on earth. So I look at this protest in particular as a beautiful and necessary step on our journey as humans. It is not just a fight of Native people against Europeans, it should be everyone’s protest. I have always made clear I believe it is vital that we take care of the one place that is our home. This earth is our home. I don’t believe that conservation is a partisan issue. I don’t believe you need to be a leftist to want the preservation of our wild spaces, or the multitudinous species that inhabit the earth, or to want the clean water and clean air that saves our lives, everyday.
The gathering in Standing Rock is evidence of that. Beginning on December 4th, a group of veterans will be traveling to Standing Rock to support the local people who are asking only for clean water and the right to their own lands. “I figured this was more important than anything else I could be doing,” Guy Dull Knife, 69, a Vietnam War Army veteran, told Reuters. To me this is hope knocking. I’m so proud of this group of veterans, my brothers and sisters in arms, who will take the time to go stand up on the side of what is right, sacrificing their own comforts, their own safety, for others. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”–Micah, 6:8. This week I donated warm coats and blankets to a young man (those stinking millinials), who is traveling from Charlotte to Standing Rock to take supplies and stand with protesters. I’ve never met him. The only thing that connects us is hope. We are hoping that if enough of us come together and stand, change happens. That is hope knocking at our door this week. It’s a scary kind of what happens next hope, it’s an uneasy, bittersweet kind of hope like when you plant seeds in the spring and pray there’s no late frost coming to kill those tiny green shoots that spring up with such bravery from the ground. And yet it’s the best we’ve got. Those young shoots springing towards the sky are the hope of the Earth right now.
This is where I stand on our first week of advent, waiting uneasily, with just that sprout of hope and doing everything I can to make sure that it survives.