Nancy Constantine offers a reflection on how her discipline of running helped her to make sense of being in a place between joy and grief during the season of Advent.
t is a strange time of year in December – the climate not only shifts with shorter days and less natural light – but our bodies yearn for that instinctual need to ‘nest’. The atmosphere is also filled with hustle and bustle, good will, and reflection on light; whether of the Menorah, the Star of Bethlehem, or the countdown to Solstice.
With a desire to keep an exercise regime intact following an active summer of cycling and running, my bike is parked but my legs long to carry me to an ongoing quest for health. As this time of year evokes feelings of loss, sadness, and accentuates the reality of being alone for many, inviting positive de-stressors consciously results in a better perspective on life. As my vocation takes me to those lonely souls on a daily basis as well as the reality of my own solitary journey, December can be a difficult month to navigate. My entire family resides thousands of miles away but my Mom constantly reminds me that my place is set at her table. Fortunately, I am invited to many tables here and am blessed with being host to a broad circle of friends who represent my family of choice.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself stuck emotionally between the darkness and light, life and death, the beginning and end. Running became my refuge, my retreat and ironically, my respite. My close neighbour’s Dad died after a terribly difficult year dealing with the cognitive and physical decline of an 87-year old man. Two days later, my boss’ daughter gave birth to his first Grandchild after months of expectant anticipation. Both families were’ watching and waiting’, the key elements of Advent. During the day, I would participate in Don’s joy as he prepared to drive to The Pas to meet his Grandson, Gavin. In the evening, I would bake comforting food and try to find gestures of support to Taras and his family as they prepared for the Prayer Service and ultimate journey to Edmonton for the funeral and burial of his Dad, the Right Rev. Dmytro Luchak. What kept me balanced was the earth that carried me most of those days that week as I ran from my door on Hazel Dell Ave. to my office door on Edmonton Street. The cold air into my body, the sound of relentless traffic, the dawn of a new day, as the sun crept over the horizon. To the rhythm of my feet, the offering of 2 souls – one new to light, one’s light now dim; praying for one Grandpa in joy; one Son in grief. I am the friend and employee committed to support life’s ebb and flow in the lives of those in my circle of community. We are deep into the season where we await for a Child to be Born, who then becomes the Man who will die on the Cross – both events that symbolize light. We are perennially on the path of birth and death, first light and last light, tears and joy.
As I hear the dance of my feet take me closer to home at the end of the day, there are sometimes reflective moments of my own life and mortality as the sun begins to fade. Just as the two hills of the Disraeli Freeway are literal reminders of the ups and downs of life, that descent to the bottom, away from my work life, toward my home life, I am grateful for that dichotomy. Life brings us grief at Christmas, joy at Easter, high hills and low plains. At our tables of celebration, whether we are surrounded by our birth or extended family, family of choice, whether chairs are removed or chairs added, this is the time of year to give thanks for the life and light around us. Whether our Christmas is White, Blue or Radiant, whether we participate in exercise routines or defer to January, whether we are with family, friends or both – it is the time of year to find ways to invite Christ into our circles – to be thankful for those who impact, challenge, influence, frustrate and love us. As the lights flicker, the fire crackles, the music bellows and our emotions mellow, may we give of ourselves as presents (presence) this December – our time, our resources and our attention.