posted at 2:33 pm
on Dec. 24, 2012
An Evil Action, and 28 Deaths
posted at 2:33 pm
My office manager Nancy was cleaning out her brother’s condominium last weekend. He died, you see, and she has had to dismantle the pieces of his life like reverse lego. It’s not an easy job.
In the bathroom, in a drawer, she found a Christmas card that he would have seen every day, and she was reminded of the first time she found it, and what he said when she asked him about it.
He said, it was a daily reminder to him. “Live every day like it’s Christmas,” he said.
* * *
What would that mean? Live every day thinking of family, of friends, of blessings, of gifts given and received? Live every day thinking of Christ and God, if you’re Christian? Live every day with anticipation, use the special china, eat well, be generous, get up early (or sleep in), and add each day to your list of special memories? Live with joy? With hope? With love?
It’s not a bad message, really, to find while cleaning the drawer of your brother’s bathroom.
I’m spending Christmas alone. Christmas Eve alone, Christmas Day alone.
I’ve had invitations. My mom and sister wanted me to come home for the holidays and was pretty disappointed I didn’t come. My cousin Bill invited me over for either day’s big meal, and Michelle and Aaron said I should come over on Christmas Eve for a lovely evening. I’ve got an offer to have sandwiches with Hillary and Mark on Christmas Day, and there are other options, too.
I turned them all down politely. I’m going to be playing a video game, sitting on the couch beside the tree I put up, eating my present to me: a one pound Reeses Peanut Butter Cup. And maybe some prosecco mixed with orange juice. I’m going to be by myself.
So I didn’t have to be alone over Christmas this year. But maybe I did.
For one thing—it feels good, sometimes, to be alone. To be with yourself, to do things for yourself, by yourself. I spend a lot of time with people around me. I’m social to a fault. This is a time for me to be with me. And that’s not a bad thing. It will feel good to recharge in that way.
But there’s another feeling, too. A hurting feeling. It’s there, too. It’s a horrible ache, a sadness, a hole of loss and absence. When Nancy asked how I was today, I told her about this feeling, and said, sure, it’s there, but what do I do about it?
She said: “Feel it.”
Why am I alone this Christmas? Because of the things I’ve done and the way I’ve lived. I am responsible for my life. If I don’t want to be alone at Christmas, the answer is: change how I behave, do things differently. I’m not alone because of a tragedy, a bolt from beyond. I’m alone because of who I am, and I am the sum of my actions, nothing more.
This lovely, lonely pain I feel, this suffering: it’s a present. It’s a reminder to me, a reminder I want to take to heart, that if I don’t want to be alone, I need to do positive and real things. I need to take actions and make my life new. I need to make things be different. And no one is going to do that for me. There is no Santa for this sort of gift.
I wrote a journal entry long ago, before blogs, before I grew up, about how lucky I was. I wasn’t a kid, but I was young, and I knew my good fortune. I had never suffered the death of a close family member. I’d never suffered a bad breakup. I’d never had a serious injury or an incurable disease. My family was well off, my advantages were many, my life was good and full of wonders. I felt for those in worse straits, I cared, but I didn’t understand what it meant to live through that.
Today, I still haven’t had things happen to me that are as bad as the calamities that have happened to others. For everything that I can say has afflicted me (torn ACL), there’s something ten times worse that has happened to others (stroke). I have lost all six of my grandparents, but not my mother, father, siblings, unborn children…
My wife has left me. I’ve lost my girlfriend. But they don’t hate me. They haven’t attacked me. I’m not friendless. I’m not destitute. I’m not an addict, I’m not persecuted. I’ve had mono but not cancer. I’ve had booms and busts, but I’ve never lost it all.
And as I’ve talked to you, dear friends, over the years and recently about my life, about the things that happen to me and how I am feeling… I hear the same things back but even worse. People in chronic pain, who can’t do the things they want to do. People who are estranged from their mother, their father, their community, their lover. People who have lost everything. People who are trying every day to make ends meet. People who are in love impossibly. People who are trapped in their jobs, or their houses, or in their patterns.
We are all broken. We are all suffering. This is life. Forget “reality TV”—is there any bigger oxymoron?—this is reality: that we all feel pain, because we all have felt joy and lost it.
I no longer only see these things around me. I feel them. I’m not innocent any more. I understand now, why when you go through a trial, you’re either “guilty” or “not guilty,” never “innocent.” I was told in college that it’s the idea that no one can truly judge you innocent. But I think, really, it’s because you can’t go through a traumatic experience like a prosecution, go through the grinder of the legal system, and remain innocent—you are never again innocent. Innocence is lost when life skins you, and that innocent skin never grows back. There’s a reason we protect it, cherish it, mourn its loss as we do.
I am no longer the innocent person I was when I wrote that journal entry long ago, and I never will be again. And being no longer innocent, I can—I must—choose between being good, and being bad. Choose how I want to spend my Christmases, and with who. Choose what happens next, in this adventure book that is my life.
And I’m choosing to spend Christmas alone so that I can clear my head, start fresh, and decide.
And with my clear head, I can see that living each day like it’s Christmas doesn’t mean living each day like it’s a wonderful blessing. It means living each day by being (not trying but being) kind and thoughtful, by reaching out to those in pain and saying, let’s get through this together. And we’re all in pain.
That’s what makes Christmas special: it’s the day we all try to heal each other.
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