Earlier this week, Ginger asked me about buying ice cream for a Sunday School special event. She needed restaurant sized quantities, so I went to by East Coast Paper, a local restaurant supply, and ordered three gallons each of vanilla and chocolate for Ginger to pick up Saturday morning. Last night, on my way home from work around ten-thirty, I called to let her know I was headed her way and she asked if I would go by the store and get the sauces and sprinkles and whatever else I could think of for the kids’ party. So I did. I got home about eleven-fifteen.
This morning, as we were preparing to sing our congregational benediction, Ginger stood up and told everyone what I just told you and then announced that I had actually bought all the elements for my own birthday celebration at Coffee Hour, along with everyone else who has a birthday in November and December. She and her partners-in-crime had taken a ten-foot gutter, lined it with aluminum foil, and then scooped the ice cream into it to make one giant banana split. We each grabbed a plastic spoon and began adding sauces and so forth and had ourselves a grand old time. Only about a half a gallon of ice cream was left when it was all said and done.
I certainly did my part to make it disappear.
I can’t think of a much better celebratory substance than ice cream. (Guinness would be the one exception – put them both together . . .) I would rather eat ice cream than cake, as far as birthdays go. The one essential word I learned in Turkey that served me well as we traveled last spring was “dondurma” – ice cream. And let me tell you: they know how to make ice cream.
I loved sharing the sundae with all the (other) kids who stood wide-eyed waiting for the word to dive in. Though a couple of people assumed they would be able to stake out a small section of sundae as their very own, I encouraged folks to dive in wherever they wanted to. We weren’t going to get sick; we were having too much fun. Besides, it’s the joy that’s contagious.
I have a friend who was born on the same day as I was, but some years later. His life is falling apart right now. He feels alienated and alone. He is alone. The possibility of his being infected by joy is slim to none these days. I thought about him driving home from church and wished I knew a way to help him feel celebrated and included. My wife and my church family gave me an amazing gift today because they took the time to make me feel their joy in my being on the planet. I’m even more grateful that this year, short days and all, I’m not feeling depressed and am able to feel celebrated and loved in a way I have not been able to do the past few Decembers.
Even if my friend had been in the room today and we had all sung to him, he would not have felt any less alone. He is despairing to the point of hopelessness right now. Thanks to Sheep Days, I learned something about hope and waiting this week:
In a recent editorial in the Christian Century, John Buchanan noted that the Spanish word (and I will add, the Portuguese) for “to wait” is “esperar.” Being a little too close to the language to realize this myself, he pointed out to me that this is also the same verb we translate in English as “to hope.” It is true. In the Spanish brain, there is no differentiation in the actual words “hope” and “wait,” though I presume that just as we English-speakers have words that mean two things, context is everything (example: “wait” in the sense of passing time before an appointed event and “wait” in the sense of serving a table in a restaurant). “Hope” in Spanish is “esperanza,” derived from “esperar.”
The wise men had the wherewithal to follow the star, believing it was a sign of someone they had been waiting for, but the angels had to go and find the shepherds in the field who lived at the margins of life, slept in the pastures, and were waiting for little or nothing because there was little or nothing to wait for.
“Joy to the world,” sang the angels. Even for those who were not joyful.
When I was doing CPE at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, we were talking in seminar one day about how to be with people who were in situations that appeared hopeless to them. The chaplain leading the seminar said, “Sometimes all I can do is say, ‘I can see you are feeling hopeless right now. Perhaps the best thing I can do is offer to hope for you.’”
This is a birthday to remember for me; for my friend, it is one to forget or simply live through. And I plan to live thought it with him, hoping where he cannot that life will not always be the way it feels to him right now.