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Hoping for love and bamboo

Viewpoint Columnist | Monday, December 9, 2013

Hello friends. Guess what? It’s Advent!
“No,” you say, “it’s the week before finals and you have reading to do, a seminar paper to write and a concrete design project to finish. Go back to the library and do your work.”
This year, more than most, it seems to me that there is a lack of space for the appreciation of Advent. It may be because my last final is less than five days before Christmas or that the workload I have to carry to the end of the semester is heavier than normal, but I feel especially weighed down. I’m sure some of you have similar feelings.
I think it is for reasons such as these that the seasons, both liturgical and natural, serve to slow us down and help us to remember what is most pressing. Whether it is in a day of fasting or in a day where we need to bundle up to face the South Bend winter, the seasons seem to say, “Get your head out of your Word document, textbook or class notes and remember you are a human being!”
Advent is cool because it also says, “The creator of the universe, Love itself, became a human being.” In light of this, we have four weeks in which to intentionally hope for Love. It is this hope that helps us to better realize we are persons.
Speaking of people, this summer a wonderful person gifted my house with a bamboo tree. I promise this relates. It was really just a little six-inch stick in a small glass cup filled with rocks and water. As the branch sat on our table I thought about the huge bamboo trees I helped harvest to frame houses on a farm in El Salvador and the saxophone-sounding bamboo flutes I got to play in India during summers past. I wondered if our small plant would one day be a tree or a flute or some other cool bamboo thing. Unfortunately, the aspirations I had for the little bamboo tree were soon forgotten and this semester we found it dry, dead and still six inches tall.
We were going to just throw it away. But someone in the house decided to keep watering it for a while to see if anything happened. Recently, we were surprised to see that a new shoot is starting to grow from the dead stick in the glass cup.
At mass this Sunday the bamboo plant surprised me once again – it sprouted in the first words of the first reading, “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” The hopefulness of Advent is like the hopefulness of watering a dead plant.
I know that papers, projects and tests are important. But the whole reason why we do these things is because of our personhood. Sometimes, I need to remind myself that the reason why I am at school is because I love to learn and have passions related to what I am studying. I’m not just a paper-writing, test-taking machine. I am a person.
So how does one remember their personhood from behind a laptop because you really have to get this paper done? Although the answers to this probably number as many as the different people in the world, I suppose one way could be that when we minimize the document, go get some food or shut our eyes for a few moments, we don’t do it out of procrastination, but out of an intentional hopefulness.
Not procrastination, but intentional hopefulness. What does that mean? I think at the heart of it, it means to not throw our hands up exasperated in the emptiness, but to search for Love, to hope for Love. When things seem dead or futile, we can do something like watering a dried out bamboo plant while seeing the flute it will one day be.
In this foolish anticipation we hope for Love. As we are hoping for Love, we realize the people around us are hoping for Love too. In this recognition, we have the opportunity to do more than just water our own plants – we can be a little bamboo shoot for another.

Jon Schommer is in his fifth year studying civil engineering and the Program of Liberal Studies. He can be contacted at jschomme@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.