Advent Mixes Pain & Yearning with Hope & Joy

I dropped my son off at the ferry terminal, the next step on his way to a “recovery” house in Vancouver.

These last few months - and particularly the previous couple of weeks - have been very hard on him. He was back using opiates - “the worst ever.” With fentanyl and carfentanil in circulation, life consists of Russian roulette many times a day. It is a hard time to be a drug user on the street. He looks exhausted, spent, physically, emotionally, spiritually. The battles of the spirit are overwhelming. High on heroin, trying to give mouth to mouth to your buddy who has got a bad batch does something to you. The forces he battles are great, of biblical proportion.

“So what now?” I say.

He so desperately yearns for a clean life, even a holy life.

Some basics - a safe place to sleep, nutritious food, a community in which to pray, to get back in touch with the two native elders who have been his mentors. He needs to gather strength.

Willpower is not sufficient; in this state, a wisp of wind can push him one way or the other. This is good news and bad: emotional drama can feel like a tornado; an offer of a safe bed, inside, and a “sweat” on Saturday provides a flicker of light on the horizon, as does a phone call, a Facebook message, a text saying you are still connected, loved, not abandoned. The family, according to some unknown rhythm and ability to forgive, seems to take turns with these.

As I watch him move toward the terminal entrance I think, he is truly living in Advent time. Yearning, preparing for a different life - gathering strength, trying to pay attention to the Really Real, staying alert to what may pull him off course and what brings life. And searching for people who can keep him focused on hope.

Then I realize that I too am in the midst of Advent.

I yearn for a different life - for him and for us. While he needs and will find strength in the prayers and ceremonies of the Cree I have my own prayers to offer, my own need to pay attention to the Really Real, to what brings life and what can distract.

I know from past experience it is all too easy to be consumed by worry. I hate to see a police cruiser come down our street - “Don’t stop here! Don’t stop here!” With each new report of deaths from overdoses of drugs spiked with fentanyl and carfentanil I pray it is not him. Phone calls from hospitals and health agencies provoke hesitancy and then relief when they are only to confirm appointments.

But the worry and anxiety cannot be allowed to dominate my life or spirit. They neither describe my life nor are they what my son wants for me.

There are many colours in the spectrum of my life.

My 8-month-old granddaughter gives me a big smile whenever she sees me and reaches out to touch my face. (I know she is reaching for my glasses but I pretend.) I race another granddaughter for “Papa’s chair” (she always wins) so she can sit and talk while I make “pasta” for her lunch. And the list goes on through all seven grandchildren, each in their own way fascinating to me and each provoking a quiet smile of joy.

Although my wife and I are now into our familiar litany - “We always say we are going to get this - shopping, baking - done earlier and we never do! What’s wrong with us?” - we look forward to the Christmas season. All 17 - or 18 (depending) - will crowd into the house, rip open presents, some will be admonished to say “thank you” before pouncing on the next present while parents try and keep track, “who was that from?” Tables will be brought out, squabbles will arise about who has to sit at the “kid’s table” and most of us will eat until we can hardly waddle to the couch following “just a bit more.”

And Grandma will, once again, give tours of her multiple nativity sets, seizing the excuse to tell the story again. Bending over the massive Fontanini nativity set, she will point out each character that was bought with the birth of each grandchild. So they are all present at the birth; all part of the story.

This is my Advent - yearning, fear, anxiety, hope, joy and love. (Peace I’m working on.)

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