Well, time for my annual confession: I am not a big fan of the holiday season. It’s a bit of a mystery really, since I absent myself from those aspects I find unpleasant (staying away from stores and shopping malls,) limit my socializing to an amount happily tolerated by a dire-hard introvert, and only get together with people I love and enjoy. I have learned to produce the traditional festive meal with minimal labour, maximum flavour and lots of assistance from family and friends. And I love having leftovers that eliminate the need to cook for days.
So what’s my problem? I don’t know. What I do know is that from about December 10th until January 2nd I find myself riding an emotional roller coaster- waking up some mornings filled with overwhelming gratitude for being alive and other mornings, with an uncharacteristic sense of dread, considering pulling the covers up over my head for a few weeks. Although I have my share of unpleasant childhood memories, none of them seem to be about Christmas. Don’t think there are any skeletons in that particular closet.
Last year, my first Christmas since my marriage ended the previous spring, I was stunned and relieved just to have survived the tumultuous separation. This year I’m like someone who’s lost an appendage and is feeling an ache in the finger or toe that is no longer there. I find myself remembering a decade of holidays with my now ex-husband- the good, the bad, the exhausting- and feeling a little bewildered. How is it possible to have shared so much, to have had a life so interwoven with another and now. . . . for it to it to be done, gone as if it never was?
Writing this, I realize there’s a clue to my annual general malaise to be found in this year’s particular experience. The seasonal traditions that remain the same for decades highlight the inexorable march of time and continuous change in my life. Hearing carols, a part of me wants to rush to the window to watch for my grandparents’ boat-sized Buick with a trunk full of mysterious and enticing gifts. Looking at coloured lights and tinsel on an indoor tree I see my sons- two small boys in flannel pyjamas- laughing as they throw tinsel onto the tree despite my half-hearted admonishments to place strands on the end of the branches. It all feels like it was just a moment ago. . . .as if I could catch the sound of their voices, or see them out of the corner of my eye if I turned quickly enough.
It’s not nostalgia for past conditions that unsettles me. I am happy with the present, filled with wonder at the men my sons have become, and loving the time I have now with family and friends. Some memories are lighter than others, some happily left behind. But the sights, sounds and scents of the season remind me of what is constant but easy to miss or ignore at other times: the movement, the passage of time. . . . awareness of how fast it all goes by. . . . how short our lives are. . . . how the changes are always happening, whether we notice them or not.
Acknowledging impermanence as an idea is not the same as the visceral experience of feeling life moving like a fast flowing river- sometimes moving through me, sometimes carrying me along. At moments I am overwhelmed with awareness of what has been lost and gained, of how little stays the same from year to year even as I hang the decorations my grandparents used sixty years ago. People pass in and out of our lives; family members age and die; babies are born, children grow up; our health and living situations change; the world changes. Much of it is good, some of it is chosen, and many aspects are beyond our control.
I hadn't been fully conscious of how this season plunges me into the experience of impermanence, into awareness of the relentless and irresistible inner and outer changes. Being with the full range of feelings that arise with this awareness- gratitude and anxiety, joy and sorrow, bewilderment and delight- opens me, softens me to our humanness.
And I recognize that even as there is nothing in this changing reality to hang onto, there is so very much in every moment to cherish.Oriah (c) 2011