“Use loneliness. Its ache creates urgency to reconnect with the world.”
— Natalie Goldberg
I know a little about “merry” meeting “mess” at the holidays — and by a little I mean How much time have you got?
Four Christmases ago, a painful break-up sent me spinning into a long tango with depression. Two Christmases ago, I came down with the stomach flu. Last year, as tears streamed down my face, friends cut off my long hair in preparation for my first round of chemotherapy. And this year? Like many, I’m grieving an election that, I believe, has already damaged the hearts and bodies of our country’s most fragile people.
I haven’t soured on the holidays, however — and I will not give up on Christmas — for two reasons.
First: long before my heart was broken and I lost my hair to chemo, I learned to shape the holidays to fit into whatever-shaped hole is in my heart.
At times, this has required ingenuity and vigilance. The holidays, laden as they are with traditions and sacred cows, can pull us into programmed ruts rather than genuine wonder. To ask, What do I truly need? and How can I claim my longing for joy? can happen only when we allow ourselves to practice vulnerability and take mindful pauses.
The other reason I won’t give up on Christmas is its central message: the Holy will never give up on us, her people. In fact, from Hanukkah to Solstice, that’s the message of most winter holy days: the Holy — call it God, call it The Force, call it Love’s Impulse — will never give up on us, even when we feel like curling up in a dark room and revoking our membership in the human family.
If I believe that your love will never let us go, I imagine saying to the Great All That Is, the least I can do is be your spy on the ground. I’ll keep watch for love, for compassion, for magic, for awe; and I’ll report back regularly, just to feel close to you.
Every one of you, Sugar Plums, has a story about the holiday blues: crisis, loneliness, wanting to give up. Telling our stories helps restore our wholeness. Tell yours. While you’re at it, form a plan for the coming weeks so that on the other side of this winter, you can look back and say, “Here’s how I made it gentler on myself, and here’s where I remembered that love will show itself, again and again.”
You reveal yourself to us in myriad ways, Gentlest of Ways, and at this time of the year you remind us that you’ll never turn away from us. Whether our hearts are merry or miserable, may our longing keep turning us toward you, and toward the presence of your Love among us.