It’s been hard to find peace lately, and when it is hard to find peace, it’s hard to feel grateful. Gratitude comes from a place of contentment, I think, and contentment has been elusive. I don’t mean contentment as in pure happiness, because that is a moving target, maybe even a myth, and, in general, I am happy. But it’s a happy tinged with worry, that ebbs and flows across the day, with some sadness and apprehension thrown in for good measure, a disquieting soup of uneasiness. This is nothing new, of course, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, but it is compounded this year, I think, because of the general state of the world, the disbelief that surrounds our president-elect, and the fact that it is Christmas.
I’ve worked hard to overcome the Christmas expectation game, with mixed results. I’ve successfully lowered my own expectations, and I don’t approach the holiday with any bar with which to measure it. There is no standard of success, no litmus test to determine if I have had a good Christmas. I need little, and wish for less. I hate opening gifts; disappointment is not really a possibility.
The hard part is the sense of obligation to others. It’s not that I don’t enjoy giving gifts or spending time with family and friends. It’s just that, to me, this takes on too much importance at Christmas. I feel responsibility, predominantly self-imposed, to ensure the success (whatever that means,) of other’s Christmases. For a person who sometimes struggles with self-doubt, this is a bad situation. Rationally, I know that I am not truly responsible for the happiness of others, but the presumed pressure to please is a powerful thing. For an introvert, the holidays are filled with social obligations that can fill one with dread. This makes zero sense to the average person, but will make complete sense to those among us, myself included, who feel socially awkward and would rather stay home than go to a party. Unfortunately, Christmas doesn’t fit us well. It’s not that we don’t enjoy Christmas; we just don’t enjoy those opportunities to disappoint others with our lack of Christmas-ing ability.
I’m finding, without a doubt, that this year is even more difficult. It is hard to feel joyful and celebratory this year knowing the state of our world. Aleppo. Climate change. Russia. The water protectors. Extinctions. Gun violence. Anti-LGBT hate. Racial intolerance. And an impending transition to the administration of a bully, a failure as a basic human being, who has declared his intent to halt any progress, reverse it even, towards dealing with any of these issues. The trappings of Christmas feel awkward and inappropriate this year, to me, in the face of such sadness and uncertainty. Christmas should be about love, after all, and love is over-matched this year, I think.
In the face of all this, I find myself struggling to find the spirit. I don’t begrudge those who have – everyone celebrates in their own way. For me, though, I find it hard to be cheerful. Thank goodness that I spend time around children, because they help to remind me that joy is possible, that laughter soothes the soul. Yes, I worry about how to nurture their joy, to shield them from the world, but they don’t ask it of me because they don’t need my help with that. It’s true that in education we encounter heartbreaking examples of children who’ve lost their innocence, and they sear our souls; it is the single most difficult part of my job, to me. They are balanced – but not negated – by many examples of childhood ingenuousness. The wonder of a child is a warming tonic.
I recently came across a piece I wrote three years ago that I probably hadn’t read since then. While similar in some ways to this, the focus was different, but the final paragraph fits here as well. I wrote:
I think it may be, simply, the absence of that youthful luxury, simplicity. Nothing more to worry about than being in the car, going where we always went, knowing what was about to happen. The smiles and giant hugs and kisses of grandparents. The quiet peace of certainty and routine, created expressly for us, by grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles, all showering us with love. A merry, little Christmas.
This year, more than ever, I yearn for simplicity. I crave peace, and quiet, and hope, and certainty. I know that I cannot create this in the world, for the world, but my Christmas wish is to find a way to create it for myself. I haven’t yet figured out how to accomplish this, but I am not entirely without faith that it is possible. I may not yet know the path to my merry, little Christmas, but I am certain that it exists, still within me, and I am pretty sure it starts with seeking peace.