Sunday, December 25, 2016
It has been a long time since Christmas has been "magical" or even special to me. Part of that is age, I suppose. Part of it is because it's a season of togetherness and one of the rare times I almost wish I wasn't a loner ("almost" because I wouldn't feel like getting all dressed up and being social anyway...haha).
But part of it is because, for many of us, Christmas' sparkles and cheer are a whitewash covering hurt that is going on inside. Because the season is so magical and because most of us remember how it's *supposed* to feel, the divide between what's going on inside us and all the blinking lights outside us becomes more pronounced. And because we all smile and greet others kindly as we're supposed to, there is this sense that everyone is able to feel the spirit of the season but you. (And while I'm talking about Christmas here, what I really mean is all the December holidays that people come together for, like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.)
This past year, more than ever, I'm seeing people struggling all around me. Some are having monetary issues. Some have just experienced a loss. Some are alone and don't want to be. Some have just had surgeries. Some are facing serious family or health issues. Some are weighed down by enormous burdens or secrets. Some are incredibly stressed. And all of this is made worse by the fact we have extra down time in which to wallow in our pain. For me, even my good Christmas seasons have been colored by my mother's death 32 years ago. It was her favorite holiday and she died just days after. It's impossible not to think of her during the holidays. The loss of a mother is something that never fully heals.
But this year, I also find myself haunted by the experiences of two of my Facebook friends—people I've never met in person, but whose stories are heartbreaking. One is a man who can't escape the loss of his two small children and their mother in a fire 10 years ago during the holiday season. The fact that his daughter, badly burned, fought to live for a couple of days, makes the story unbearable. Everything he lived for was gone just like that. And while he's rebuilt his life and now has a young son, how can you not think of the two you lost every year when you set up your tree? While you're grateful for the second chance, how do you ever stop wondering what could have been?
Another is a mother whose adult son has gone missing. He is mentally ill and without his medicine. He was seen a couple of days ago, but has eluded the police and others who are looking for him. She uses the word psychotic to describe his state, so I imagine his illness is quite serious and getting worse each day he is without medication. She had a birthday yesterday. And while she is a very spiritual and strong woman and her son is a fully grown adult, how can your heart not break with Christmas two days away and your baby out there somewhere in the weather, wandering the streets of NYC?
It puts things into perspective, doesn't it? Sure, I'm blue, but I have a warm, comfortable place to sleep, plenty of food for my belly, safe loved ones and three dogs that worship my every breath. And while the typical nuclear family might enjoy the holidays more, their pre-holiday rush and preparation has been nowhere near as peaceful as mine. It doesn't exactly convert my sadness to happiness, but it shows me all that I'm grateful for.
All of this inspired me to do a ceremony last night for the solstice. I built a fire and placed the "burdens" I carry into the fire...thoughts and emotions I carry with me that weigh me down. Then I smudged my house. Then I took a long shower. All of this was to cleanse the pains and shortcomings of the previous year off of me and purify myself and my home for the next six months as the sun's light expands day by day in the world and in my heart. I'll probably do something similar at the end of the calendar year to honor this past year and the coming year.
Anyway, I share all of this not to offer spiritual platitudes to people who are feeling down. "Buck up little beaver" isn't going to do the trick, because much of the pain that bubbles up during the holidays is deep seated and comes, I believe, to show us what we still have to heal. But really I just want people to know they're not alone. Not by a long shot. Behind many smiles you see on holiday faces—even among those who will experience the day's magic once all the rushing and shopping and cooking is done—there is a person just trying to cope until the season has passed and regular life can resume. Feeling what you feel doesn't make you abnormal or a killjoy. It just makes you human.
So if you know someone who might have reason to struggle this holiday season, be extra gentle and loving. Reach out to them even if they have carols blazing and a cup full of nog. And if you are that person, muddle through. It's OK to feel the way you're feeling. The other day I did a random act of kindness for a stranger and that helped my mood. But the person you most need to be kind to is yourself. So take a hot bath, maybe write everything down in a journal, or just binge watch movies. Whatever gets you through. And when you start to feel alone or broken, remember that you're not alone. We'll make it through together.
For those who are struggling, the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.