In Medias Res: Christmas Letter 2013
Between stoplights, fighting through the middle of San Juan Capistrano traffic on a Wednesday afternoon, we pass the Mission Basilica, all decked out for Christmas. Ronan, my sole passenger, dressed in semi-clean jersey, shin guards, and muddy cleats for soccer practice, interrupts my musings to ask,
“Mommy? I don’t get it. See the sign on the church? It says ‘Unto us a Savior is Born.’ I don’t get it. How come baby Jesus is a savior? He’s a baby. I don’t get it.”
See?! Did you hear that?! Right there – in the middle of everything – one of the most significant parenting moments, the most pivotal theological engagements, hits me in the craw while zooming between two points, out of my peripheral vision, on a Wednesday afternoon.
I write this year’s Christmas letter to you In Medias Res – in the Middle of Things, smack dab in the center of “misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,” from the middlemost of life’s miasma. The term is Homerian, I think. Both Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey begin in medias res, in the middle of the story. When we meet Odysseus, for example, he is not commencing his long journey home, twelve ships triumphantly filled with the spoils of his Trojan conquest and assured of a hero’s swift and celebrated return. No, The Odyssey begins at the halfway point, with a hero who has lost all his men, all his booty, all his pride, and he humbles himself before King Alcinous to tell the story of his tumultuous past, and to graciously plead for help to return home and reclaim his almost-usurped throne.
And so here we McKeagneys are – in medias res – deep in the middle of a tumbling sea of multiplication tables, clients, grading papers, soccer practices, Minecraft regulation, pantry management, late night Xopenex treatments, dog barf, speech therapy, Nerf bullets, wood dust, trad tunes, iPod touches, band-aids, lost teeth . . . in medias res, slam bang in the core of our lives.
Like Homer’s tale, our Odyssean year had us navigating through uncharted waters. Brian sailed with Herculean ease from the Isle of Elementary School to the Isle of Middle School, briefly battling the Ogre of Orthodonture along the way. In Boy Scouts, he completed his Trail to First Class in record time, and, with dogged determination, will advance to Star Scout this year. Speaking of doggedness, Brian gained a new best friend this year: Rua, our red golden retriever, our Argos, who came to us finally, after many years of promises, a young pup and an old soul herself, from whom we will learn much about loyalty, long naps, and unconditional love.
Therese piloted the twisting, confounding Strait of Dyslexia which is not at all straight and continues to throw us off-map. She, too, is in the middle of phases, between innocent girlishness and confusing tween-hood, which seems to start earlier than ever. But her Athenian wisdom and stalwart heart speak to her ability to stay on course. Like Demeter, Therese gathers friends like spring daisies and lovingly weaves them together into adorning crowns for all to wear.
Ronan must have channeled Poseidon this year. I’m not sure what happened, but he steered us headlong through the rocky rushes of karate, soccer, and cub scouts, left his babyhood lisp to drown in quickly-forgotten waters, and plunged with Icarian carelessness and Pandorian curiosity into raucous goofy boyhood. In his multi-age classroom, he’s been grouped as a “middle student” -- an advanced second grader, but not quite third – reading above grade level and challenging himself with the pitches and rolls of cursive writing.
Gabriel, my Hephaestus, who crafts untold masterpieces in his forge, also finds himself and his business mid-journey. Although Architectural Furnishings had to scale back over these last recessionary years, it feels as though Gabriel will soon be making a crossing from a two-man operation to a national enterprise.
And me. Well, I’m Hestia, of course, keeping the hearth fires, the heart’s core, burning in the center of the home. My job is to find meaning in all of this: mid-breath, mid-drive, mid-phone call, mid-humility, mid-sacrifice, mid-sip, mid-task, mid-sentence . . . .
See?! Did you read that?! It happened again –- right there in the middle of the last sentence!
Homer knew our lessons are to be learned not at the end of our voyage, but all through the middle: mid-humility, mid-sacrifice, mid-compassion, mid-hatrick, mid-acanthus, mid-tune, mid-field, mid-Wednesday afternoon.
And so I find myself, mid-winter and mid-life, swirling in the Charybdian vortex, answering Ronan’s question by remembering that our theological heroes teach us the ultimate lessons in sacrifice and humility:
“Well honey, I’m not exactly sure. But I think we call the baby Jesus a savior because he grew up to die on the cross. And he did that to show us that our greatest work comes in the middle of our lives, that it may not be in the form we originally expected, that it involves supreme sacrifice for others, and that through our own personal sacrifice we are stripped of our hubris and saved from our very selves, and that we are meant to learn this in medias res.”
No, wait – that’s not what I said. I actually said,
“I think we call the baby Jesus a savior because he loved us and because he wanted to teach us how to show our love for others in the best way we can.”
“Oh,” Ronan replies. “That’s kinda weird. Only cause why?”
Okay, I got this one; this one’s easy. “Because, in the middle of everything, is love.”
From the middle of our adventure to the middle of yours, we wish you love. We wish you love and peace and humility and sacrifice and compassion and peace and love.
(See?! Did you catch that in the last sentence? That’s the way it works.)
Merry Christmas, In Medias Res, from the McKeagneys