It’s been hard for my wife and myself to keep the joyful spirit of Christmas this year; seeing my friend’s family soldier on through his onerous cancer treatment, my wife keeping a watchful eye on her far-away friend as he deals with his wife’s worrisome health decline, the despair of my retired colleague slowly losing his eyesight, the haunting memory of my co-worker who committed suicide, another co-worker fearing her father’s stay in the hospital this month will likely be his Final Visit, our grief in recently losing our old dog to old age… all this avalanche of bad news has made it a struggle to keep finding reasons to be happy, and I find myself challenged indeed to feel “merry” this Christmas.
Christmas time seemed so much simpler, when I was a child. The anticipation triggered by waking up to the first snowfall of the season, the thrill of shopping for The Right Gift for my parents and each new sibling as they were introduced to their first Christmas with our growing family, and especially the delight of waking up to a sea of presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Those were the days…
The childhood innocence that accompanied the narrow joys of Christmas Past must today co-exist with the adult awareness of the bigger picture within which these tableaux take place, in Christmas Present. It seems such a petty thing to shed a tear over, what with each day’s new horrors to contend with, but the passing of our dog has really hit me hard, and I miss my little buddy terribly.
How to live in hope for good times ahead, when the world gives us every reason to abandon such ideals, when each day seems to take away far more joy than it provides? The Christmas season carries the whispered answer, half-hidden but nevertheless visible, if we but have the insight to perceive it: the lesson that joy is a gift that we can give to ourselves, anew. As every thing changes, some things must never change, they must be re-embraced, they must be re-created, so that there may be a re-joicing… the experiencing of a renewed joy.
We change as we live, as our lives change us; we gain and we lose, often both at the same time, in a way that the child with his nose pressed against the frosty window, gazing expectedly at the freshly-set white blanket of snow in his front yard, could never have foreseen, or understood.
The objects, the places, even the people, that bring us joy are ever-changing as well... not always changing for the better. And maybe this is the hardest lesson to learn of all; that it is not the material present that brought us joy, but the spiritual love that inspired the initiative to give the gift in the first place. The source of that love is as ever-changing as life itself, as new friendships are made, new families are formed... new pets are found to replace the old.
In the blizzard of life’s constant change it’s hard to see the snowflake that remains unchanged: the lifelong ability to migrate from a focus on the decay of the physical, towards that which can’t truly be seen or touched, only felt; as real as a promise is real, actual in the way an imagined hope may be actual. It’s hard to act on the faith that, despite everything we learn about life as we live it, life includes the possibility for rejoicing. Renewed joy is out there, somewhere, waiting for us to move on, and find it again. Like a fresh snow blanketing the neighborhood, each one is different, however much they are similar to the ones that came before. Each one is special, however much it stirs memories of the past. Like snowflakes: countless in the ways in which they are unique.
Pressing my nose against the window and seeing the first snowfall this weekend, this older child now with white in his hair as well as his front yard looked into his past to see his future, and hopes that by this post he will commit to keep working on that act of faith required to rejoice in time for Christmas.