“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.” ~ Oscar Wilde.
Nothing beats our memories of childhood Christmases. One of the best parts of the tradition is the watching and the waiting. The anticipation begins to build from the sighting of the first Christmas lights, the sound of the first carols on the radio. Of course, commercialism has managed to dilute the effect by placing Christmas items in the stores earlier and earlier. Move over Halloween, Christmas is a-coming! There used to be a more measured approach to the holidays, a respectable two weeks before, two weeks after, a more controlled way of celebrating the season.
One tradition which has finally made its way to the USA is the Advent Calendar. In my childhood this was a picture of a nativity scene, with 25 (24?) hidden windows, all numbered, which we would take it in turns to peel open. Behind the window would be an added detail, a surprising addition to the nativity story. The final window would be the largest, and would of course feature Baby Jesus, smiling and cooing and very white. But that’s another story. When my kids were little, my mother would mail us a calendar so I could have my kids participate in the family tradition. Today the advent calendars can be found locally, usually missing the Nativity Scene but including chocolates behind the windows. How times have changed!
One lesson I learned early was that you cannot judge the value of a gift from its outer wrapping. In fact I am sure many people have bogus empty prettily wrapped boxes sitting under their trees right now – purely decorative and designed to confuse. As a child I always preferred not knowing what gift I was getting, even if the actual gift was a (slight) disappointment. That anticipation, the not knowing, the hoping, as you carefully (under the watchful eye of your recycling mother) peeled away the tape was priceless. In fact the longer it took to remove the wrapping, the longer you could imagine the best of possibilities! I am sure everyone has at some point participated in one of those gag gift wrapping exercises, where a tiny gift is wrapped in layer after layer until the final presentation is a huge beautifully adorned box, designed to frustrate the recipient as they tear their way to the reveal.
Last week my high school football (soccer to the US) team capped an undefeated season with a division championship. It has been bitter sweet as we have also been mourning the loss of the coach who originally led our school to the same championship some 40 years ago. So it was touching to see his photo being proudly carried by the current team, he was sitting on the bench with them. It has always amazed me how (mostly men) can remember details of football games played many decades ago, knowing which foot the ball left off of before being speared by which foot of the goal scorer past they eyes of which defender and outstretched arms of which goalkeeper! I am lucky if I can remember the score!
The game which was played on Saturday had many stories behind stories, some of which we may never hear. But the most talked about was the fact that the referee ‘red carded’ our goalkeeper some fifteen minutes into the game. The rights and wrongs of that action have been debated and proclaimed upon elsewhere. But the end result was that the goalkeeper was sent off, and the team played with ten men for the remainder (majority) of the match. Thankfully the rules allowed for the goalkeeper to be replaced, but that meant that another player had to be sacrificed, through no fault of his own.
So now you have two stories. You have the story of the youngster hyped up and prepared to play the match of his life having to watch from the sidelines. But you also have the story of the understudy goalie, the one who has most season prepared and dressed up only to watch all except 2 games, as the unmentioned, the second string. How could he have known he would be taking center stage on this all-important night, how must he have felt? The role of goalkeeper is unique in the game. When it is your turn in the spotlight there is no room for error, your faults are on full display. It was indeed remarkable that he was able to overcome the sudden change of plan, the sudden thrust into the arena, to maintain his composure and perform.
The icing on the cake is that tomorrow, as we gather together in South Miami to celebrate the life of that visionary, that man who elevated schoolboy football coaching to a science, our team will be preparing to play for the national championship. Who knows what may happen there, but we are hoping that Chung-Fah will get the send-off he deserves, riding off into the sunset on a shield of glory.
It is difficult to prepare for the unexpected, but it is a good reminder that sometimes what looks like a disappointment may turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you. Perhaps that job you didn’t get led to a better opportunity. My parents met when my mother was volunteered by her mother to help get a youth group going. My mother did not want to go, it was not her church, she did not know anyone there, and she resented being there. It was that chore that set off the chain of events that led to my presence on the stage of life!
The only thing that is certain is that life is full of uncertainty. As we get into the full-throated roar of the season, I hope you are blessed with pleasant surprises. But please keep in mind that there may be those among us who are dealing with pain and sorrow, who are facing surprises of a less than pleasant nature. The greatest gift of all is life and health, and the ability to share loving moments with friends and family. May you have a wonderful weekend, Family!