It’s been years – eons, it seems – since I felt anything resembling Christmas spirit. Every year I make half-hearted attempts to try to figure out why, but I mostly just keet putting one foot in front of the other to get through, pasting on that smile and doing what I think will make everybody else happy. This year, though, I feel an ole’ familiar flutter, a stirring, a quickening that I vaguely recognize from many years ago. I pass a mirror and am surprised to see myself smiling. I play and dance and I even sing Christmas carols.
I feel peace and I feel contentment, and I’ll take those two things over happiness any day of the week. On the way home from a glorious day spent in Asheville with my husband and our children and their friends, I think about that, pondering what’s the difference. Wondering what magic ingredient is here this year that’s been absent the past umpteen years. What’s different? Maybe it’s an age thing – there’s no doubt my clock is ticking – but I think it’s mostly something else.
This past year, you see, I kicked the shutters off my heart, opening up to the sorrow I’ve long been trying to outrun or shove aside or leave on the side of the road. I sat with the sorrow. I went to bed with it and I woke up with it; I spoke to it and I listened to it. I stitched it and wrote it and invited it to tea. I grieved, and I grieved long. And hard. And deeply. It was a generalized grief and a broad grief, a mourning for those lost, for time wasted, for loss of my space, both physical and personal. I missed my daddy, my Aunt Rene, and my children, Alison and Kipp. There was a deep well of unspent grief for me to draw from, and though I did keep functioning (on most days, anyway), I didn’t rush my way through it, and you know . . . I think it’s that opening to sorrow that has made all the difference.
Oh don’t get me wrong, sorrow is still with me, quietly accompanying me, popping up when I hear Silent Night (the song we sang as we exited Daddy’s funeral) and when I realize that I’ve lived over half the Christmases I will ever know. Tears are precariously near the surface as I hear my children poking and kidding each other and laughing with their friends; when they stop what they’re doing and walk over to give me an unsolicited hug; when they ask to do something the way we’ve always done it. I think about how they are young adults living their own independent lives now, and I’m touched by their willingness to leave some of the burdens of adulthood at the door and come into the world of being a child again. I see them looking at me through different eyes, and I imagine them being impressed even if just a wee little bit to now see their mother as an independent woman who devoted a big chunk of her life to them and did so willingly and lovingly. Their dad comes over in the midst of the delightful hubbub to kiss me, and we linger in the embrace, knowing that we brought these two amazing people into the world. Satisfaction. It wasn’t always easy, and it still isn’t, but we did good. There’s a sorrow there, and there’s a gladness there. Both.
I can’t explain it, and maybe I don’t need to. Maybe it’s enough just to enjoy and appreciate the peace and contentment that swaddles me. Maybe there doesn’t need to be a reason, and maybe I couldn’t articulate it even if I knew perfectly well what it is that caused the shift. But my bones say it has something to do with opening the shutters to sorrow, that somehow in opening to grief, I also opened to peace. That in giving space to the sorrow, I laid down the notion that I’m somehow defective or broken or less than because I feel sorrow.
However it happened, I feel Whole and Genuine and more Right than I’ve felt in an awfully long time.
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