Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas in the ordinary

Christmas Eve & Day are the most special days of the year for me, primarily because no matter where I am, there is a different feeling in the air on these two days, unlike any other days I've experienced throughout my life. Expectation, joy, peace, all emotions I've felt on December 24 and December 25. It's a mystery to me...and it repeats year after year. I've also had years of sadness and loneliness on these days, dealing with loved ones who were ill and in crisis. My grandpa collapsed on Christmas day and died four days later when I was nine years old. Thirty six years later, it's still a prominent memory for me. My Dad was in the hospital three years ago and now his best friend is there, a man who sat with us for three months...patiently waiting like us, for Dad to come home.

To equate this time of celebration with love and grief is unavoidable because the emotions are so interconnected...We grieve those whom we have loved. God comes to us gently in His example of His birth because I think He knew and understood the world He had created, one in which joy and fear shared seats in concert, with passion, love and anger. How can one not stand in awe of the fragility and beauty of a newborn infant? In the midst of chaos, the world did not stop. The world celebrates simplicity in extravagance. He was/is a contradiction. Being born in the bleakness and beauty of humble surroundings, via a vessel of grace, we had among us the Godchild, a Light in the darkness.

We are celebrating Christmas this year, grateful for the blessings we've received and will receive in the coming year, worried about extended family members dealing with a devastating diagnosis, a good friend in the hospital recovering from a fall off a roof. Life is a circle of joy and suffering, gain and loss. In the midst of running around this Advent, it was important for me to lie low and hang out with the kids. My sisters and I decided we wouldn't exchange gifts. We thought it best just to help each other with the dinner preparations. We wanted to welcome friends we haven't seen in a year. They are Jewish friends who want to experience Christmas and they asked to share it with us. It wasn't about what we bought. I know, I know. The stores opened early and closed late with discounts and deals beyond belief. Someone reminded me that a good deed is better than 80% off anything that is usually discarded soon after it's opened on Christmas. We filled up our gas tanks with loose change. When was the last time we could do that?

Who needs you? That is what this Christmas is about. Does a friend need a lift, a kind word? Does someone need a ride, a meal, a shoulder to cry on? Better than that cashmere sweater, or Blu-Ray DVD player, how can you give your time? What about having everyone in for a movie night, a home-cooked meal, a night out with a babysitter? Who needs me? My family is about to lose me to a 12 month nursing program and I have to remind myself that I need to set aside time for them. Sometimes, just hanging out in the kitchen baking with my kids is a gift.

When Christ was born in Bethlehem, He came as an infant, in secret and in love. He revisits us in the sacraments, in other people and even sometimes challenging us by coming to us in the people we don't care for too much. God comes to us through our family members and friends. As quietly as He arrived...he stays patient for us to recognize Him in the ordinary. Cook something nice, be present to your loved ones, take the phone of the hook, go to church, even if you haven’t been there in a while, open a bottle of something to share and have a very Merry Christmas.

Tammy Maher is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Put me in coach...

It feels like a very long baseball game is finally winding down after extra innings. After what seemed like an interminable amount of time in school preparing for a nursing program, this old bench warmer is finally having to step up to the plate and hit something, because everyone wants to go home, darn it! I say that tongue in cheek because after being so worried about getting into school, rejected by lotteries and retaking classes I had B’s in for A's,I was too tired to be happy about it when it finally happened…in a trio of acceptances into two bachelors program and one masters program.

I narrowed it down to two. One costs as much as a loaded Lexus and lasts 12 months, the other is much slower paced, less expensive and is a 2-year program. At my age, I should be practical and take door number 2, but I am Bob & Sally’s daughter, so I always do things that are risky and so I go for what Monty Hall is holding in his left breast pocket, which is a roller coaster ride to hell and back.

Luckily, misery loves company and my old pal Trudy decided to jump on Hell Ride 2 with me. She’s just as a nervous, but we’re old broads with moxy and we’re just gonna jump on the ride, fasten our seat belts and scream. In the process, we hope we lose a few pounds.

I tried on my nursing uniform last week and my son laughed at my shoes. “Are you going outside in those?” I know this is going to be one of those experiences not unlike what my nephew went through at Basic Military Training. There is no glamour and glory in being a student nurse. There will be times when I will feel stupid and probably do something wrong. I know I will have to swallow my pride and get ready for the boot stomp, but at the end I will be a different person. I will be a nurse. In the meantime, I hope to have the stamina it takes to endure cramming what most students study in 2-3 years, into an accelerated 12 month 2nd degree program. Knowing the family won’t see me much, I have started to build of arsenal of support. Carpool plans, study groups, buying books early (reading). I’ve had parental help with books and supplies, and I’m on a first name basis with my loan officer. Note to self: Consider hiring a housekeeper to prevent mental breakdown in the middle of the year. JD and the kids assure me they will be waiting for me at the end of the ride. So I go.

We went to orientation last month and a faculty adviser suggested we keep a journal of the year, only because so much will happen during the program, we’ll want to look back and see how we’ve changed. I decided to keep an on-line diary which I will blog for anyone interested in reading about student nursing or the nursing profession in general. The blog journal can be accessed at

A friend of mine who graduates tonight from the same program I will begin on January 5, is not the same person I went to Folsom Lake College with. He’s been through a process that redefined him. I saw what it was doing to him last summer when we met him and his wife for dinner. I thought to myself, “I will never do it that way” and in true Tammy fashion, promptly signed up for it in November. He is so much happier now, like the end of the roller coaster ride that made you really sick, but elated to come out the other side, or the really long baseball game that never ends. His first job will be working in the Operating Room as an OR nurse so I guess you can say he hit a home run. Put me in coach.

Tammy Maher is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her on the web at or