Monday, December 19, 2011

Hark the Herald, Angels Ding!

This time last year I wrote a blog where I mentioned trying to learn to live in the moment. While I felt that I had a pretty good grasp on the issue, I have spent the better part of this year learning even more what it really means. I haven’t made it a secret that I regularly see a therapist (I affectionately refer to her as my Shrinky Dink) and by regularly I mean more than once or twice or thrice a week. Now, when people find that out, they say to me, “You must be really messed up.” I laugh, because the reality is I am not really messed up, I just need the on-going conversation to help me stay focused. I think I now have a much better understanding of what “living in the moment” really means.

The Holiday Season really tears at the fibers of living in the moment. I want to continue to create fabulous memories for my children; as they grow-up we find ways to include them more and more in the makings of our traditions; Christmas tree decorating, baking, general decorating, gift selecting, and other merriment. My Norman Rockwell image is that we’re bundled up against the elements, on a sidewalk, under a street lamp at night, out in the snow, excitedly pointing at the perfect gift for a loved one beautifully appointed in a storefront window or we are all in the kitchen surrounded by mountains of home baked goodies that shimmer with tastiness; the kids’ faces flushed with excitement, the kitchen is a manageable mess, and outside the kitchen window, snow is gently falling, alluding to the feeling that we are cozy and safe. (Notably odd is that we live in the Pacific Northwest, so that snow that I long for is more likely to come in a liquid state.)

The combination of the Norman Rockwell moment with reality is that some tasks now come with discussion (Why is our tree so colorful, why don’t we pick a specific palette of colors?), some with dissent (I don’t really like decorating the tree, it is so boring and takes all day!), some with disappointment (No! We are not buying you a (fill-in-blank)!) So that living in the moment concept has to be revisited… yes, it is okay if our child would like to have a different kind of tree in the future, it is okay that our other child lay on the couch and chat with us while those of us who want to, decorate the tree, and it is okay to say to our children, “You’re older now and the things you want are more expensive, so be prepared for fewer gifts.” The trick I find is to reconcile the two… not just say it, but feel it. It is okay that there may be a feeling of loss, because I may really want my Norman Rockwell image, but I need to let my kids be who they are, and somehow I need to do what I want to do for the Holiday to have meaning to me. Tricky, but it can be done. The next sentence would have me saying how, but I don’t know how. I’m in the phase where I am figuring that out. I think it has to do with the belief that if acceptance and love is involved all will be well.

Holiday issue number two… I love, love, love Christmas carols, caroling, old carols, new carols, country carols, rap carols, carols, carols, carols. It harkens back to many memories of sitting in church and watching my father who was the Priest and Choir Director, leading the volunteers through the scales. My all-time favorite holiday carol story has to do with a tiny church in Texas, a very tall boyfriend of my sisters, and “The little Drummer Boy/Carol of the Drum.” On Christmas Eve that year, I was nine; I sat cozily ensconced between my mother and brother while watching my two sisters, my sister’s friend, the other sister’s boyfriend, and father sing.  Honestly, I was drowsy and only partially aware. All I really remember is there were too many “rum-pa-pum-pum’s,” the choir dissolved into a fit of giggles, the 6’3” boyfriend was trying to hide behind a gaggle of giggling petite girls hiding behind sheet music, and the audience was laughing. To a nine year old this was quite funny.
This is a giant admission for me to make, so as I draw a deep breath and put myself on the line, I am hoping that all of you read this with very open hearts and minds… I don’t believe in organized religion. “Church” has seriously let me down, religious leaders have broken the hearts of many, and though many have found comfort in religion, I have not. To this day I cannot enter a church during a service without crying and feeling the need to flee. I think the most honest thing I can say is that Christmas Carols hold so much power and promise and are heavily laden with memories that the holidays are the closest I can get to God. As before, I can only say that in the “what’s next” department, it is a slow journey towards honesty and hopefully meaningful conversation. As for this moment, I can only say that it has taken me years to be this honest about who I am and what I believe. Dissenting from what I was raised to believe and separating me from those I love in this respect is a challenge. However, it seems that in living in the moment one must be true to oneself to succeed. A return to the phrase, “Action speaks louder than words” applies. Having spoken my truth about not believing in organized religion shouldn’t alter what people have experienced me to be. I allow for that fact that it may.
If I had to define my faith, I would say my faith is in Humankind. I know plenty of people would say that people do bad, even terrible things. The simple answer is yes they do. My belief is that very few people do bad things for absolutely no reason. Abuses, deprivation, addiction, abandonment, lack of education, mental and physical disability are the cause for many wrong doings; I am convinced of this because if one looks below the surface, most offenders have serious problems.

The media weighs much more heavily to ensure that we know the bad, but truly with very little effort you can find stories of inspiration everywhere. At my children’s elementary school we held a food drive before Thanksgiving. We raised almost six hundred pounds of food; people didn’t have to give, they chose to. Our Japanese community was very involved. They had been so touched by the outreaching of Americans and our local community after the Tsunami hit their shores in March. In my eyes this was global healing.

Just last week there was an article in the newspaper about a man who had committed heinous crimes and had escaped capture. While running from the law he saw a young woman who had fallen into a river and was drowning. He jumped in and saved her life. He was captured. When asked why, his answer was simple, “I couldn’t let her drown.” Even those we judge to be contemptible are human, and who knows why this particular man committed the crimes he did, but when living in the moment, he chose to save a life.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend the day with my family… the one I was born into. Given that we have vegans, hunters, humanists, priests, and everything in between, conversation could be tricky. When we were younger there was a great deal of conflict because we didn’t know how to handle the fact that there was such massive discrepancy in beliefs and lifestyles. With age and life experiences I feel (not think, believe, but feel) that a great deal of acceptance has occurred. Though I don’t believe in religion I can hold hands with my family and share a prayer. I completely and utterly support their beliefs and translate them to my world. Because at the end of the day we are praying for the same thing, that our loved ones are healthy, those in need find peace, and that we can be of service to each other.

Often I sit in my car and see someone holding a sign that says, “Please help!” When I sit there and see these people I cannot help but think that some of them must be in genuine need, and for all those I uncomfortably observe there are thousands of faces that I don’t and many of those faces do need help. I always drive away thinking that there must something that can be done, some way to be helpful, to find balance. It is not in my nature to ignore issues; I much prefer being proactive.

So in keeping with my need to Live in the Moment and to be true to my belief in humankind, I decided to organize a Hygiene Kit Drive for the Women’s and Children’s Shelter nearby. The local elementary school was once again asked to support this cause. When I was chatting with my son about it he said, “Didn’t we just do a food drive? Isn’t it too soon to ask people to donate more stuff?” While his point was valid, my answer was, “I read about a girl who didn’t eat for 26 days.” I suppose I could have cushioned my response given that he is ten years old, but I couldn’t because I was making dinner in my new kitchen with a fire blazing in the living room, the Christmas tree decorated, and my holiday shopping mostly done. How do I help my child learn to understand our over-abundance?

When a handful of us were still living at home with our parents my father went to college. My brother lamented that we were so poor we’d be lucky if we received an orange, pencil box, and a penny for Christmas. I don’t know if it hurt my parents to hear his concern, but they made sure that our gifts that year included an orange, pencil box, and penny. We laughed so hard that Christmas. Yes, we were scared and things were tight, but my parents helped us laugh. So in dealing with my own children I want them to learn that it isn’t quantity that defines a successful Christmas, it is the fact that we listened to them and tried to hear their wants and needs.

A few days ago we were at a holiday party and people were sharing how close to Christmas their birthdays were and how it affected the gifts they received. I shared that my mother-in-law was born on Christmas Day and how she didn’t like it. My son said, “I wonder if it bothered Jesus that he was born on Christmas.” Most of us laughed until we couldn’t breathe. When I could breathe again, I reminded him that Christmas was the celebration of Jesus’ birth. His answer was, “Oh yeah!”
In wishing you the Happiest of Holidays, I close with inspiring words from Love Actually:
Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.
Thanks for reading.