Today is December 21. Four days before what should be the most uplifting day on the Christian calendar. Four days before we celebrate the birth of a child. Four days before we spend time with family and friends to celebrate joy and love and peace on earth, goodwill to men. And I’m having a very hard time dealing with it this year.
I am not mad. Mad is what I get when someone cuts me off in traffic or when I see someone being rude or when I’m lied to. I’m beyond that. What I am now is scarily, irrationally angry. Not only over what happened last week in Newtown but over the continued defense of guns and the blaming of the media and video games for the murder of 26 people last week.
I hadn’t really talked about it that much, the way I feel that is, with anyone but my mother and my great kid. And then, last night, one of my wonderful high school friends (thank you, Carol!) posted a question on Facebook, something to the effect of “I can’t get into the Christmas spirit this year. I feel guilty feeling happiness after all that has happened this year. Does anyone else feel this way?”
And it made me weep because I’d been feeling that way too and, in the way I think too many of us do, hadn’t reached out to talk to people about it. But there were so many signs around me, of people struggling to feel happiness that I don’t know how I didn’t notice.
My great kid celebrates Christmas for almost 2 months. The day after Thanksgiving, the decorations and tree come down from the attic and he spends all weekend decorating our little house so that it twinkles and shimmers and sparkles (and smells like evergreen trees, thanks to Yankee Candles) and everything stays in place until the 3rd or 4th week of January. But this year, even he didn’t feel the Christmas love. The decorations stayed in the attic, and stayed, and stayed. I finally started asking when he was going to decorate and they finally made their way to our living room about 2 weeks ago.
And then that’s where they sat until 2 days ago. The boxes holding ornaments and tinsel and lights and stockings and snowglobes remained unopened, pushed up against the wall. What a sad sight it was. And I asked him once or twice what his plan was and he was very non-specific. So I didn’t push because I thought to myself that if my great kid can’t get into the Christmas spirit, who am I to push him? He needed to do it in his own time, to find his own Christmas spirit and joy, and he eventually did.
We all, I’m sure, have had individual and family issues and problems this past year. 2012 has not been one of my most memorable years. I’ve had some health problems and my dearest friend has gotten sicker and sicker throughout the year. I’ve seen highs and lows this year and, even when things were very low, I went to sleep every night saying the same prayer I have said almost my whole life. “Thank you, God, for everything you have given me”. And I meant it, and I mean it. Because He has given me so very much.
But still, still I’m sad. And it’s a combination of things. Hurricane Sandy, I think, started me on this path. I was very lucky and very blessed to have suffered no damage more than losing the food in my refrigerator when my power was off for a week. But I look around me and see the devastation in the places I love at the Jersey shore, the houses boarded up, the boardwalk gone that I walked on a few short weeks before the hurricane, the businesses shuttered, the near-empty restaurants. And I look at 2 of my high school friends, women I’ve known forever, who lost almost everything in the hurricane. I see reminders almost every day by people posting photos on Facebook, or on television showing us the skeletons of buildings that used to be homes, or hear stories of people who still have no heat, no hot water, no electricity, nothing.
I’ve helped, or tried to help, as much as I can, although others have done much more, I’m sure. And I’ve made a point of frequenting any business or restaurant open at the Jersey shore, and done much of my Christmas shopping at the local stores and boutiques there, to make sure they know that people support them and that they’ll still be there, open and thriving, when the shore comes back. And I was starting to feel better, starting to feel a little bit of the Christmas spirit.
And then, last Friday, I was driving my Mom down to the cemetery, to visit my darling Dad’s grave. The radio was on, white noise in the background, and we were talking about everything and nothing when we heard the announcer start to weep, as she reported that 26 people were dead in a school. And we both started to get teary and I remember having to blink and blink again to get the tears out of my eyes so I could keep driving safely. We both kept saying “How could this happen again?”
And it does, and it will continue to, unless things change. I don’t want to get into a debate on what should be done. My position on that is very clear if you read my Facebook page at all. But what I do want, for me, for my great kid, for my Mom and my sisters, and for all of you, is for us to get some Christmas spirit back.
So here’s what I’m going to try and remember this Christmas season, one different from any other our country has celebrated. Whether we agree or disagree on how to deal with what has happened, the fact remains that we live in the greatest country on earth that allows us the freedom to live our lives and speak our truths and celebrate our religious holidays and look forward to better days.
As for me, I am surrounded always be people who love me and lift me up and I will find my Christmas spirit and hope in them. I have my great kid, who inspires me every day with how kind and compassionate and brave he has become, how he takes care of me and my Mom not because he has to, but because he wants to. I have my Mom, who always knows the right thing to say, who took us in when we had no power for a week during Hurricane Sandy, who treats us to dinner far more often than is necessary, who remembers every family member’s birthday with a card, who taught me how to be a good mother.
I have the memories of my wonderful Dad, who lives in my heart and soul every day. I still talk to him and ask him for advice and help and sometimes he helps and sometimes I’m not sure he hears me (because hearing was not his strong point his last few years, as any of his family members can attest) but I still talk to him because he’s still the best man I ever knew.
I have been given a wonderful opportunity this year to write professionally (and get paid for it too), something I have yearned to do since I was in high school. I’ve been able to visit friends near and far, and talk to those I haven’t visited. I have attended my 40th high school reunion and was humbled by the gratitude and love showered on me by my DC girls, who thought the Facebook reunion page I created and the postings I put up were some kind of hard work, instead of a labor of love. I reconnected with a friend from high school who we had tried to track down for 30 years and had never been able to find, and I wept with joy when she showed up that day. I became friendlier, and then friends, real friends, with girls I had never said a word to in high school because our schedules and lives were different. And I thanked God for the chance to see them all and be 18 again, even if just for the day.
I am grateful for waking up every day now, after going through surgery and being told I didn’t have cancer by my wonderful doctor. I am blessed to have been able to spend Thanksgiving with my second family, the wonderful Vernolas, who took us in and made what could have been a lonely day one of the highlights of my year. I have been lifted up by people who have many more troubles than I do and who have inspired me to be better and do better.
So I may not have as much Christmas spirit this year as I’ve had in the past but, when I take stock of what I have and know that I have the power to make someone’s day or maybe even their life better by giving what I can give, listening when that’s what they need, holding their hand when they’re sad, I have to believe that a better Christmas awaits all of us. And maybe it will be next Christmas, if it’s not this one. But it will happen. We’ll feel optimism again. We’ll become motivated to do something to stop the violence and hatred in our world. We’ll remember what one of my DC girls said last week, that there are too many Eleanor Rigbys in this world and that it’s our calling, our duty to reach out to that person, to be kinder to them, and be kinder to ourselves at the same time. That it’s okay to feel happiness again. To believe that better days are ahead. To have hope and optimism. To ask for peace in our hearts and souls. To love and be loved. As the wonderful Prayer of St. Francis says, Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Be that instrument and bring peace to yourself, your family, your neighborhood, your world. And know that my life would be so much emptier if you all weren’t in it.
So Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.