Matt Dickerson: Alaska, Advent and thoughts about waiting
My wife Deborah and I had dinner this week with our friends Rich and Jan Warren. We met at the Bobcat Café and Brewery in Bristol, one of our favorite local restaurants and also a convenient meeting place between our home in Middlebury and theirs in Starksboro. It was well worth the drive up, not just for the food but also for the company. Every time we get together with them, Deborah comments, “I love Rich and Jan. They’re such wonderful people.” It was partly by accident, however, that we got to know them many years ago. Although I was loosely acquainted with them through the New Haven River Anglers Association, it wasn’t until we discovered some indirect connections through our churches that Deborah met them also, and we began to spend more time together.
At the Bobcat, we ended up talking for well over two hours, long after the dinner and even my desert had vanished, covering a variety of topics. One of them was fishing, of course. Over the past half dozen years, Rich and I have taken at least six fly-fishing trips together out of state — and he has appeared as a character in several of my fishing stories — starting with two trips to western Maine, then two to Oregon for steelhead, then a trip to Oklahoma. Most recently, this past August, he joined me for 10 days in Alaska.
This was our first time getting together since our time fishing in Alaska, and as we shared photos from the trip we wondered where our next trip together might take us. This “where-do-we-go-next” conversation continued, as we stood outside preparing to part ways. Deborah must have overheard us, because next thing I know she is laughing. Not just laughing, but laughing at me.
Which brings me to my important diversion from this story. A week and a half ago, we entered the part of the year known in the Christian calendar as Advent. Many people think of this whole season from Thanksgiving to Dec. 25 as the Christmas season, but Christmas doesn’t actually start until Dec. 25, and then it lasts 12 days. The four-week season leading up to Christmas is known as Advent.
Advent is a season of waiting. For those in a Christian tradition, that period of waiting is a reminder of what Christmas is about: it is when God, the creator of the universe, entered into his own creation as a character in his own story in order to save the world. He did this in the person of a first century newborn baby named Jesus, born to Jewish mom and dad (Mary and Joseph) while their nation was living under Roman oppression.
What does this have to do with waiting? The answer is partly that Jews had been subjugated to the Roman Empire for a long time, waiting for a promised savior or messiah who would bring them freedom. But perhaps more importantly, Christians believe that the entire world was waiting for that savior, who had been promised by Jewish prophets centuries earlier.
Now I’m not a big fan of our modern commercialized celebration of Christmas that centers around Black Friday, and weeks of endless commercials for the latest games, electronics and automobiles that falsely promise to bring happiness. But growing up, my family did celebrate Christmas by exchanging a few presents on Christmas morning. Which, until I was old enough to start earning money, really meant mostly my parents buying presents for us kids. And because they would wrap those presents and put them under a tree — often weeks before Christmas — I would have several weeks of anticipation, wondering what was in the packages and waiting to open them. Not nearly the same thing as an oppressed people waiting to be rescued from captivity. But, still, it gave me a little taste of waiting.
Which brings me back to my wife laughing at me. A couple weeks ago, while discussing the fact that we are about to make our final tuition payment for our kids, she mentioned that maybe we might be able to afford the trip I’ve been dreaming about to Labrador for some Atlantic salmon and brook trout fishing. She’d mentioned that in a somewhat offhand way, like it was something that maybe we might begin to think about some years in the future. But the next morning I had a list of wilderness lodges scoped out in Labrador, with prices, and descriptions of which offered the best brook trout fishing and which focused on Atlantic salmon. That was what she was relaying to Jan, as a humorous anecdote about her husband.
The thing is, she doesn’t know that half of it. (Or at least not unless she reads this column.) Because she had also mentioned that maybe for our 60th birthday parties we could get our kids to go to Alaska with us to celebrate. Although that birthday is still a few years away, it’s close enough that I began to imagine such a trip. And once I began imagining it, I began planning it in my mind. And now I’m eagerly waiting for it — even though I’m not at all eager to actually be 60.
Can I wait more than three years for such a birthday present? It seems like forever. Until I think about what it was like to wait several hundred years for that first Christmas morning and the present that came to the world.
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