Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Christmas. War Is Over!

December 24
How many clichés about time could be gathered around Christmas trees or hung from their branches like ornamental clock faces? The halls are decked with memory and expectations as cards stretch out as if hung on a string stretched between the hopes and the fears of all years, and the dream that they might be met tonight.
So a very merry Christmas from our household to yours. May your hopes be realized and your fears be, well, as minimal as possible in such times as these.
The annual year-end stock-taking finds the Lederle-Ensign family well, albeit one dog short of this time last year. Our 14 and a half year old Jack Russell, Norm, is killing mice in the great beyond, an image that raises all kinds of eschatological questions. I mean, if your great joy in life is “killing things” then what would happen to the things you kill in an afterlife? Do mice have as many lives as cats? And do they ever live into an existence in which they are no longer hunted by cats or Norm? On another note, how many Christmas letters do you receive containing speculations about rodent eschatology?
Moving along to the surviving members of the family then …

Hannah continues to stake her claim as the studious member of the family, following in her high-achieving mother’s footsteps even as the slacker men in the family try to keep her grounded. She’s pretty much loving life as a seventh grade girl. While the great changes that come with her age keep us on our toes, she’s living into them with grace. As a friend visiting this week said, “What happened to that little girl who used to live here?” Indeed. While she is becoming a young woman, 2011 was the year that she laid claim to a youthful love that could last a lifetime: baseball. We made it to a half dozen Nats games, and Hannah celebrated the 4th of July lying on her back in the outfield grass of a minor league stadium in Chattanooga watching fireworks and clutching a foul ball that came our way during the game. “This was a good day,” she told me as we watched the peaceful bombs bursting in the warm summer air.

Always precocious, Martin has had senioritis since 8th grade. Finally, at long last, he can have it for real! With graduation looming in spring, he’s been busy with college apps and visits this fall. He seems likely to follow his older brother to Mary Washington, and we’re all quite pleased with that prospect if it turns out that way. In the meanwhile, Martin continues his musical explorations, adding the banjo to his mandolin and violin playing – he could be a one-man bluegrass band if he’d grow a few extra arms. He’s planning to deepen his understanding of the southern folk heritage this winter as he hits the Crooked Road as part of his senior project exploring part of the history of the banjo in America. His Bach-on-the-banjo rendition of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring was a highlight of the Christmas Eve service at Clarendon. Who knew that piece could sound so nice on the banjo? I’m not saying that there’s a connection, but the curly haired musician kid always has a cute girl beside him, and the current love interest (a friend from camp) is a brave enough soul to have accompanied the nattily attired (floral print skirt) Martin to the gender-neutral dance that his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance sponsored (and that Clarendon hosted). The father-son picture from the dance was called “the greatest thing on the internet” by one discerning friend on Facebook. Personally I think it was dad’s tie-dyed clerical shirt, but some disagree.

Down the road in Fredericksburg, Bud continues to have a generally fantastic college experience at Mary Wash. He’s moved off campus for his junior year and is sharing a house with two good friends from Arlington. We gathered with the three young men, all the parents and most of the siblings the Saturday evening after Thanksgiving, and it was immensely gratifying to see what nice, smart young men they’ve become, and to realize that there’s every good chance that they will hold onto this core friendship throughout their lives. They are living the all-American college life, and loving almost all of it. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of it for Bud is his continuing relationship with Monica, a delightful young woman who is a first-generation Chinese-American immigrant. Cue My Big Fat Greek Wedding, as we get set to meet her parents at New Year’s. I want to bake a bunt. In addition to the swirl of academic and social circles, Bud has devoted a huge amount of time and energy to the club level ultimate Frisbee team. We got a chance to watch them in a tournament in Fairfax this fall, and came away impressed by the skill and intensity with which these young men play a game that many of us played at a far lower level years ago. In the classroom, Bud has decided to complete a double major in English and computer science, and it seems possible that he may actually be employable upon graduating in the spring of 2013, though graduate school is also a distinct possibility. His summer internship at the Library of Congress will certainly look good on applications to potential employers or schools.

As you’d guess, he got that internship through his good connections at the Library, where Cheryl continues to love her job of eight years. Happily, albeit sappily (and dully) she reports that the highlight of her year was staying married to me. At the risk of too much happy-sappy, I’d say the same is true for me, as I come toward the midway point of my ninth year at Clarendon. We’re looking forward to celebrating 30 years of mostly blissful married life next spring, and are happily soliciting suggestions for ways to mark the occasion. The year has been filled with small but joyous moments and events: a family ski trip to Pennsylvania last March, time at Camp Hanover in the summer, trips to Chattanooga to visit David’s family in July and to Ohio to Cheryl’s mom’s in August, work trips for Cheryl to Chicago and New Orleans (and lots of pizza and Mel Brooks for the left behind), an early-December 15k run to celebrate my 52nd birthday – hey, you celebrate your way and I’ll celebrate mine!

There were, of course, world events of great import during the year, and we played our very small role in them -- delivering cake to the Occupy Wall St. group in McPherson Square, continuing to advocate for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the church and culture, and trying speak out for, and live into a world more welcoming, just and peaceful. Christmastide '11 we celebrate the long-overdue end of the war in Iraq, with hope that Christmastide '12 may see the end of the decade of war in Afghanistan.
I suppose there is something quietly wonderful to be said for living into comfortable middle age where the passing of a year brings mostly simply gratitude for work and family. As Wendell Berry wrote years ago, “Work done in gratitude,/Kindly, and well, is prayer.”
If that be true, then we’ve passed a year of prayers, and as it comes to a gentle close, we lift up a common prayer for our friends and loved ones, that 2012 find you in good health, in good cheer, keeping faith with the work you have been given to do, and planning a visit to our nation’s capital, where there is always room in our inn for you.
Grace and peace,
Hannah, Martin, Dylan, Cheryl and David
A post-script from the next generation: Martin says, ”our pater familias has way too much time on his hands. Please, help us find him something useful to do with that PhD. “ Hannah says, “our father is a ridiculous man.” Bud says, “I love my father very much.” (OK, Bud was not available for a post-script so I had to guess what he might say.)