(or Guilt in a Box)
A few weeks ago a colleague asked me “How was your Thanksgiving?” I replied by letting out an audible groan, to which he laughed and replied “You are the first person to respond that way.” And in that moment I realized that not everyone sees the holidays as a detonated minefield ready to explode.
For me, the holidays highlight loss. I become acutely aware of what I’ve had to sever in order to stay true to myself. I have a heightened sensitivity to people who are no longer in my life – either by death or estrangement. I look wistfully at friends and neighbors, who seem surrounded by family and who never have to contemplate the question of where or how to spend the holidays. Of course they will be with family, of course everyone will get together to celebrate. I live in hope that we will find a “chosen” family of our own, but it never seems like there is anyone around us who is also family-less.
And yet, I find myself trapped in the traditions of my childhood, unable to completely let go and forge a new set of traditions for my family. The past is hard enough to shake free from, under normal circumstances.
And then there’s the mail-bombs that arrive via the postal service – Christmas cards from my family of origin that only remind me that I am no longer really a “part” of that family, or my personal favorite, a box of presents from my mom which is nothing more than guilt wrapped up in pretty paper and tied up with a bow. A part of me always wants to chuck the box out with the trash, but I never follow through, and at some point on Christmas Eve, after a few glasses of wine, I am able to unpack the toxicity within and place her gifts under the tree.
It’s a stressful time of year. There’s never enough time to get everything done, and yet, presents and wrappings and food and cookies and parties and trees and decorations are not what Christmas is all about. We learned that lesson from the Grinch.
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
~ Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
This year especially, my inner-Grinch is struggling with wishes for joy and peace and cheer and merriment. It does not feel like the “most wonderful time of the year.” I am already longing for January, when the tree and decorations and loot are put away and the quiet of winter descends and forces the world into a much-needed hibernation.
What I am most wishing for this year is stillness. I just want to sit still and be quiet and make myself immune to all the invisible forces of the world bashing about my soul and my spirit. I want some space for quiet contemplation so that I can assess my options in this crazy new world we now live in.
I am amazed by all the many people who have found this little garden of mine since I started planting my thoughts here in May – more than 400 of you from 20 different countries. I had no idea when I created this space that it would have to contain so much loss and pain and anger and hurt and upset – emotions that I was ignorantly unaware of in my own consciousness. But I am glad that I sowed the seeds when I did, that I have a place to set down some of my thoughts, especially in this time of crisis, personally, politically, collectively.
I, like so many others, will be glad to bid farewell to 2016. Some years are just like that.
So I wish you stillness in your heart, no matter the burdens you carry or the demons you wrestle with, as we close out this year and look ahead to an unknown future. Be still. And thanks for reading.
And when he came to the place where the wild things are
they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth
and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws
till Max said “BE STILL!”
and tamed with the magic trick
of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once
and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all
and made him king of all wild things.
“And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!”
~ Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are