Thursday, December 19, 2013

Another Take on Christmas Cheer

This is a blog that has been swirling in my mind since the beginning of December, and I have hesitated to write it for reasons that will become apparent as you read on. It is an exercise in humility for me. I am a "stiff upper lip" New England girl, a "sunshine and rainbows" yogini, a steady and grounded meditator. I am not often one to share the struggles until they are resolved, to air the discontent until it has been transmuted into equanimity.  But I have concluded that there may be as much value in exposing my vulnerability as there is in demonstrating my strength. I hope that in doing so, we can all begin to shed the masks that we put on for one another and embrace the fullness of our emotional experience even when it is raw and unsettled.

As I write this, I am sitting in a coffee shop. Acoustic Christmas music is playing overhead, a mother with three children dressed in look-alike holiday outfits is in line, and a group of ladies in sweaters that should have been retired in the early 90s is exchanging gifts. I am quite literally surrounded by holiday cheer, and the more I see of it, the more I want to crawl under the covers until it is over.

Don't get me wrong, I used to love Christmas. It was my absolute favorite time of year. As a child, I lived in awe of the magic. I believed wholeheartedly in Santa Clause, looked for elves behind my bedroom curtains, and dreamed of reindeer hoofs on my roof. When I was in college, I dragged my roommates out to buy a tree for our apartment and took the bus to downtown Baltimore to see the decorations and choose gifts for my family. At 20, I got engaged after a performance of the Nutcracker, and at 22, I got married 3 days after Christmas surrounded by Poinsettias and Evergreen. As a young mother, I spent days baking cookies and decorating my house, hosting parties and writing cards. My heart would fill to overflowing when I sat on the couch in the light of the tree with my kids snuggled up at my side, and when I woke up on Christmas morning, I would literally weep with gratitude at the abundance in my life.

That was then.

Two years ago in the first week of December, on the very day that we put the tree up, my marriage of almost 20 years ended. My life fell into complete disarray, and the curtain closed forever on Christmas magic. I still go through the motions. I send gifts to everyone I know, and I decorate. I even manage to bake a couple of batches of cookies, but my heart is heavy, and I know I am not alone.

My ache is painful, and my longing for Christmas Past is palpable, but there are others like me. In fact, there are those who suffer from much deeper heart ache. There are parents who have lost children, widows and widowers spending the season alone for the first time. There are those who don't have money to buy a gift for their loved ones, and those who live far away from family members. There are people who have just been diagnosed with life threatening diseases, who have lost their homes or their jobs, who live in places in the world where there is no security or freedom. The list of things that could compromise Christmas Cheer is long, and the number of people on that list is beyond measure.

I am not writing this to elicit sympathy. The truth is that despite the sadness I feel around this time of year, I am very blessed. I have two beautiful teenagers, a business that I love passionately, a comfortable home, extended family support and wonderful friends.  I am writing to shed light on those for whom this time is dark. I hope to offer a reminder that as we move through the season it might be worthwhile to be a little more tender right now. The busy-ness factor picks up in these last few days before the 25th, the amount of stress increases in direct proportion and the amount of patience decreases. Take the time to pause, take a breath, open your heart, and consider what some of the people around you might be experiencing. Offer a smile instead of a scowl, a kind word instead of a rebuke, a prayer instead of a curse. Let that be your gift to the world, and you may just notice that it is a gift to yourself as well.

And if, like me, you are one of the ones who struggles through this month, know that you are not alone. I offer my own heavy heart to you. May our joining together in spirit bring us the joy we cannot find apart.

A Very Merry Christmas to each of you.