My nerves have been raw lately. Two weeks of sickness and PMS and darkness descending have exposed them to the elements, and my reaction has been less than graceful. But I’m hopeful, not so gloomy that I’ve lost that, which is all I can ask for during this time of darkest days. I’m hopeful that I’ll feel well soon. My dear friend Melissa gave me wellness herbs that I am putting my faith in to boost my body into fighting off this illness. I’m reading two Anne Lamott books at once, so that is boosting my ability to give myself a little grace. She just makes being a crappy human so okay. And I put up the twinkle lights. We aren’t decorating a tree this year because we leave Christmas day for Mexico, but the kids kept begging that we do something. And, lo and behold, how I needed the twinkle lights to boost my mood. So, I’m hopeful that I can turn things around and be fun mom instead of just barely tolerant mom. I think Maya’s not as hopeful. She’s pretty fed up with me and has said so several times. Fortunately, she’s forgiving and accepts book reading time as penance for my sins of grumpiness.
Every year Marco and I enter into the same discussion of Christmas. You’d think by now we’d have worked it out, figured out where we stand. I know you’re probably thinking that we way over think everything and belabor very small points. Yes, indeed. That’s how we roll. Just when I’d come to peace with my enjoyment of Christmas as a tradition I grew up with and an enjoyment in itself, he started suggesting we not call it Christmas. “We don’t believe in Christ. Heather, you know that the church just hijacked someone else’s holiday to force Jesus on them.” Yes, I know. But it’s basically been hijacked right back - by gluttonous consumerism and conspicuous spending. “We don’t subscribe to that either.” Well, no. We try not too. But we do believe in hope in the darkness. We believe the light will return. We believe in generosity. We believe in taking time to show people you love how much you care by making or finding small tokens of joy. And there’s something kind of cool about the mystery of Santa. Neither of us believed in Santa, so it’s an unfamiliar concept to us, but our kids have soaked it up. And they’re asking all sorts of questions. Maya is on the fence and always looking for clues as to whether she’s right about him not existing, but I can tell she’d really like it to be so. I’m familiar with that feeling. So we pose everything as questions such as, “Do you think he’s real?” or say things like, “They say he lives in the North Pole.” We never say whether we do or do not believe he’s real - just try to further the mystery and lead her in the direction of solving while maintaining a sense of awe. That’s the goal for it all right. Last night she said, “How do we know if he’s real?” We can’t prove a negative. I said, “Some of the most important things in life we can’t prove.” I’d like her to come to her own conclusions about God and all the characteristics that people attribute to him: grace, peace, hope, love, compassion.
So, we decorate with Christmas decorations. I love the family time of hanging ornaments and listening to music and cinnamon and cloves and orange and peppermint. I love creating warmth and light and hope in our home when we can’t be outside in the sunshine and bounty of nature. We bring it inside. I like those traditions - really from the Norse people - of warding off the evil winter spirits of darkness with the magical properties of the evergreen, plants powerful enough to stay green even in the harsh winter. I like how all of the traditions of Diwali and Bodhi Day and Saturnalia and Solstice and Yule and Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are all about celebrating light. I need that.
Yesterday the minister at UUCSS spoke about Artemis, the Greek goddess, and of what it meant for the Greek people to believe in this goddess of protection and chastity and fertility and safety. She was honored in hopes of good outcomes, yet she was understood to be, like all gods, mercurial. Things did not always go in your favor and not necessarily because of something you did. But the young virgins served her in hopes of protection and health and safety in childbirth. She spoke of a time when she had, when things were so dark and difficult, asked for help from Artemis. And something changed for her. And she said that maybe it was something that changed in her by letting go and trusting. Maybe Artemis was a model of who she wanted to be. Or maybe, just maybe, there had been a hand of help and strength.
I like when people say, “I know there’s a god. And I know I’m not him.” To me, that moment of release, surrender, and admittance of inadequacy is the tender moment when compassion and love come beaming in through the small cracks. I am so hesitant to surrender because, if there is a god or goddess, he/she/they are mercurial. I don’t trust in good outcomes. I don’t believe in a personal deity looking out for me personally and caring about my sickness or Zoe’s constipation or our upcoming travels or any of the things I hope will turn out okay. But I also believe in the Henry Ford aphorism, “Whether you think you can or you can’t - you’re right.” There’s something about letting go and trusting in goodness and having a positive hope in things and people and in the light.
Yesterday was the start of Advent, the time of anticipation and preparation for the coming of a savior king, and this weekend begins Hanukkah, the celebration of the provision of god in the clutch, when we least have hope. There will be enough oil. There will be salvation. We have hope.
So, with trembling arms, I open my hands in hope. I’ll light a candle to represent my hope in the great mystery, in the goodness of mankind, in the tenuous anticipation of Spring warmth and the return of light. And I’ll say a prayer to the universe, the forces at work that are greater than me, of thanks. Thanks for my babies. Thanks for my husband. Thanks for my house. Thanks for so many, many things coming up roses for me. Because, wow, it could have gone a really different way. I did nothing to deserve all this goodness, that is for sure. And I’ll lean back and surrender myself to not-being-in-charge. I’ll let go of thinking that the bad things are my fault and the good things are my merit. They are all part of the mercurial nature of existence. And really, they all end up coming up good when my heart is in the right place. My friend Melissa would say that it’s all light. We need these challenges to grow.
“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.” - Pema Chodron