This morning on Facebook I saw that someone had shared a video of the horrific ways in which extreme fundamentalist Muslims meted out punishment for perceived crimes. I will not relate here what those were; at this time in our culture, we’re all well aware of the medieval practices that still exist on this planet. I realized that the intention behind sharing this gruesome post was to make sure that this behavior wasn’t being ignored, but instead was being exposed and brought to light. Intrigued, and in spite of knowing what I would find, initially I had opened the link to watch – but then quickly closed it when I realized what I was doing. I was about to – as my young son so often puts it – “give my energy” – to the wrong thing. I was about to empower the very thing that I wished to disempower. “Where attention goes, energy flows”, yes? We know this stuff exists, but do we need to bear additional witness to it? Me, I’d rather send my attention in more life-affirming directions.
I am keenly aware of the suffering that fellow creatures continue to endure at the hands of man. My outrage, however, is not an answer to the problem. It’s my personal feeling that the best way I can combat the evil that exists in the world is to act in my own tiny world with love, kindness and respect. That being said, I’ve lost a few friends over the years because I have sometimes not offered the kindnesses I perhaps should have; I may not have given thanks where they might have been deserved or have kept up with ongoing small talk and pleasantries, or perhaps insulted someone without meaning to. In some cases, sometimes life has simply carried me in other directions. But never have I wished any of my onetime friends – regardless of how our relationships may have ended – any ill. Not even my ex-husband. Or his wife. Instead, I send them my best wishes and continue to move forward in my own world, interacting with those around me in the most positive ways I can.
When you no longer have small children in your home, or when a parent is no longer alive or a dear friend absent, this time of light and love can carry a deep, poignant pain. There’s already so much heartbreak in the world, and one doesn’t ever have to look far to see it. Add to that the contrast of what we imagine such holidays should look like – and how they actually do look in our lives – it makes it even harder for some of us. I’ll bet that there are far more people who don’t experience anything close to the picture-perfect scenarios that the media will have us believe are the norm.
How many folks actually know the experience of ‘dashing through the snow’ on a sled pulled by beautiful draft horses? Me, I was a lucky girl; I actually did know this experience first-hand. (As kids we found it very funny when the horses stopped along the way to drop steaming poops in the snow. And let me also add that occasionally horses fart at they walk. Again, as a kid, hilarious stuff.) I was blessed to experience old-fashioned country Christmases with trees fresh cut from our woods, bells jingling on harnesses, the smell of wood fires in the stove and beef from our own animals on our plates for very special meals. Of course, as a child, I had no idea that this wasn’t how everyone else experienced this time of year. Instead, the things that I did wonder at were more the logistics of it all; just how on earth did Santa make so many deliveries? And just how did he manage to get into our house? We had no fireplace! (I also remember one year deciding that I really had heard sleigh bells outside and being thrilled and a little frightened at the same time.) Those memories are so distant now, but I still have them, and I will always have them; those past experiences have been the best gifts of all.
My son has only ever spent one Christmas here with me at the Hillhouse. And it wasn’t the magical time I’d hoped for. It certainly didn’t live up to the times my brother and I had as children here in Greenfield. That was another era, for sure. The year in which Elihu stayed here was sadly missing in some sort of magic. I knew that it would be a challenge to maintain a cheery atmosphere in a household of two, and while I did manage to cultivate some of it, it just wasn’t the same. While it breaks my heart that I will never have a memory of a happy, familial Christmas with my son here in our home – or elsewhere, for that matter – I know that it’s far more important that I make that opportunity available to him by whatever means. And so once more, my son is with his ‘other’ family for the holidays. He’s with his little half-brothers, his father and his father’s wife, and theirs will be a bustling and full household. So, in spite of how empty it feels for me, I’m happy in knowing that my son is experiencing his own magical time.
Tonight, I’ll go visit my old friend Jim, a man who once worked for my father, and whom we Conants consider to be family. Ironically, my mother and brother will go to visit another old family friend – coincidentally also named Jim – who also worked for Dad’s Baroque festival years ago. My brother is so full of rage and hate for me that he will decline to attend an event if it means we must be in the same room at the same time (not to mention a car ride – that would be out of the question. This is why Andrew did not join us for Thanksgiving. His choice.) So thankfully mom, Andrew and I will each have a destination tonight.
I may miss my child, but being alone is not something I dread. Honestly, it’s something I cherish. So being alone on a holiday isn’t so bad really. Like my mother, I enjoy having my space and solitude. And, like my mother, tv acts as a modern-day hearth in my home, a conduit to the outside world which gently animates the quiet space and gives the feeling that one is not so all alone. (For me Facebook also helps alleviate the quiet without disturbing my privacy.) My mom has always been a gracious (and talented) host, and I, like her, strive to make guests – planned or otherwise – feel at home when they stop by. I try to find food and drink, and I make an effort to keep energy up, positive and lively, even though sometimes I’m far from in the mood. This is the good aspect of having guests. They require that one keep human connections; their visits keep things enlivened, and sometimes they can offer happy distractions. (For me, the other side of the hospitality coin is that I love to be alone, chatty and entertaining though I may appear, and I get a bit agitated if I have to share my space for too long. Guess I’ve turned into something of a hermit here in the country!) I also have a never-ending list of things that need to be tended to, and I always look forward to the long stretches of kid-free time I have over holidays. Without them, I have no idea how things would get put away, baseboards dusted, or the floors washed. It’s a time of utility for me, and this I consider a huge gift.
The one thing I find lacking at this time in the year is not so much the holiday hubbub or the presence of children and happy chaos, rather I’m sensing that I’ve received more than my share of good fortune and experiences in my life, and somehow, I wish I could offer up something in return to the world. So I’ve decided that this year I will do something. I’m going to give something back. In years past I would have paused because I had no ‘real’ reason to do such a thing, no group affiliations, no projects, no ‘excuse’. But this year, I find I’m too old to care. I am going to visit some local nursing homes. I’m going to see if anyone needs a visitor. I may even bring a book of carols. I don’t know. Not sure how it will pan out. But I don’t care. My solitude is welcomed, but theirs may not be. So tomorrow I’ll be making a gift of my presence. Hopefully, I’ll spread a little light where it’s needed.
In spite of how things may appear right now on this planet, let’s continue to shine our own little lights in our own little worlds as we’re able. Maybe one day the light will make it into every forgotten and neglected corner. One never knows, and it certainly can’t hurt to try. So tonight, I’m wishing all of us creatures on Earth happiness and peace wheresoever we may find it.
The night this video was shot I stayed in my old house in Illinois, if you can believe it (I hardly can), along with my husband and his then girlfriend. All of us – my husband, his girlfriend and their new baby – my son and me too – all had Christmas together. If it hadn’t been for the antidepressants I was on, I can tell you that this super-human feat would not have been possible. But in the end, I was doing it for my son, in spite of the bizarre and painful situation, so that he might have a happy Christmas, undisturbed and unchanged by our recent move to faraway upstate New York.