For several days, I’ve had a few bars of a song stuck in my head. Problem was, I couldn’t get quite enough of it to put a name to. But there it was… just a few bars of a chorus, drifting into my thoughts as I went about my days.
All through the errands.
Through the stressing over the Christmas gifts.
Through the worrying over finals and my sister and visitation schedules and HDMI cables and postal delivery times.
Through juggling phone calls with the Munchkin’s school and health insurance companies and pharmacies and doctor’s offices and banks and the mortgage company.
Through laundry and bill-paying and house-cleaning and therapy appointments.
Through the daily efforts poured into shoving aside the dark December memories that tried to push their way to the forefront.
All the while, I was tangled in an internal tug-of-war… an extension of my ongoing existential discord between allowing myself to rest when needed, and feeling guilty over all the things that went undone.
Since my last post, my life has changed dramatically. I’ll catch that up in another post. Tonight, I’m just thinking about the last month-ish.
The Munchkin didn’t get a picture with Santa this year. Nor did he write him a letter.
I didn’t make candy or cookies. I convinced myself that people would understand if I sent “New Year’s Letters” instead of Christmas cards.
I never got around to buying candles for the Advent wreath… which was moot, because I didn’t get it out of the garage until the 23rd.
Actually, I didn’t get anything out until the 23rd. That’s when I lassoed Mom into helping me get the tree up.
But just one.
And yes… one should be more than enough. But I love Christmas. And in the years since my divorce (from he who hated Christmas and would only ever allow me to have one box of decorations), I have been accumulating a collection of holiday decor. My tendency to buy at post-Christmas sales to save for next year has amounted to a total of 6 Christmas trees (the big 8-ft for the vaulted living room, the smaller 6-ft. for the family room that we had from apartment-living, a small kitschy fiber-optic for the Munchkin’s bedroom, two small topiary-like potted that I sometimes use for other occasions as well, and a metal outdoor adornment for the front yard).
And, of course, the standard stockings and garlands, lights and wreaths and sundry trinkets…
I know that probably sounds excessive. But the Advent ritualism has always felt very sacred to me… symbolic of something much larger. Yet my present emotional state made it feel this year like another mess, another project, another check-box for my Sisyphean to-do list.
When I was a kid, Christmas was sacred. Not just one day, but the entire season. Growing up in the Episcopal church and with big families, there was an entire month (or more) of preparations. The Hanging of the Greens, the shopping, the school concerts, the Sunday School plays, the choir rehearsals, the family traditions, the baking, the addressing of cards, the family gatherings. Harvesting a “real” tree with Mom and Dad. Baking cookies to be delivered to the local emergency rooms and fire and police departments for those working on the holidays. Gradually being taught about and being allowed to participate more in all of what I began to internalize as something holy. To this day, I find a moment of something surreal when I walk outside at midnight on Christmas Eve, inhale the cold winter air, and look up at the sky.
Over the years, the traditions have changed. My grandmothers who taught the recipes are both gone. Loss and challenges have created division and drift in extended families. The pursuit of education and dreams puts miles between us and those we love. Some situations are simply transitional. Some need to be reborn. For several years now – and especially around the holidays – I have struggled with the desire to create a sense of tradition that my son can treasure later on, when so many of the customs in which I found the sacrosanct have fallen by the wayside.
And now, here I am. In between faith communities. Back in college. Unleashing my inner “tiger mom” on the Munchkin’s new school to advocate for his needs. Fighting to get out in front of my FM/CFS rather than being dragged in its wake. Building a new relationship that is still temporarily long-distance.
Right now, sacred feels hard to grasp.
For a while now, I have felt like I need to soak in the sacred. Wherever I find it, whatever it looks like right now. It feels so close and yet so far… something perceptible just on the other side of a thin veil… visible, fragrant, tangible – but just ever so slightly out of my reach.
Then finally, the lyrics that had been dancing around in my mind broke through the mist:
I need a silent night, a holy night
To hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noise
I need a midnight clear, a little peace right here
To end this crazy day with a silent night
The Amy Grant lyrics suddenly rang crystal clear for me. She ponders,
Did my own mother keep this pace,
Or was the world a different place?
I’ve asked Mom about this on multiple occasions. Every time I feel overwhelmed and start comparing myself to her (or other Super Moms), she always reminds me: “I didn’t do it alone. I had your dad, and your grandmother; we had church and friends and extended family around. I wasn’t raising special needs kids, I wasn’t going to school, and I had more help.”
Despite these challenges, I’m discovering a great deal about myself lately. About what drives me. About the difference between one’s self-identity and one’s sacred identity. About the depth and nuance of what sacred truly entails. About finding sacred in the ordinary. About finding the quiet spaces and letting the sacred just be.
So at present, I’m taking a break. I’m not looking for anything. I’m not seeking. I’m shoving all worry aside for these few days. I have been sleeping (a LOT). Coloring. Reading. Cleaning and organizing. Relaxing, even though I keep having to tell myself that this is restful bliss and not idle laziness. While I never expect life to be easy, with the help of several others, I’m creating plans to help next semester run smoother. To try to equalize the ups and downs that have defined, especially physically, the last few months.
But there will be plenty of time for worry and stress and busyness again when the next semester starts…
For now… I’m taking a much-needed silent night.