Merry Christmas! Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Solstice, or the holidays in some other way, I hope today finds you relaxing with family and friends and enjoying being together. Each Christmas I find myself reflecting on what this time of year means for me, and how do I want to celebrate it. I could make do without the material and commercial aspects of Christmas, although I am realistic enough to know that won’t happen completely. I still exchange gifts with family members and loved ones, and I do enjoy that. But what I enjoy MOST about Christmas is the intangibles, the parts that have little or nothing to do with ribbons and bows…
Here is my Intangible Christmas List for 2015…
1. A day in the life of a cat…or dog. I suppose it’s true what my kids say….I really AM a crazy cat lady! I have a middle-aged cat and two kittens, and this Christmas I am on crutches following foot surgery and confined to the couch much of the time. So my focus is on cute cat behavior and silly animal stories and photos. I have to say, I AM impressed with how easily the cats are entertained by every bow, scrap of wrapping paper, box, or bag. And the Christmas tree still provides endless entertainment as the cats knock down ornaments as quickly as I put them back up. Add into the mix a three-month old lab puppy, who regularly chases and pins down the kittens, and in return they dish it right back to her by staying just out of her reach and teasing her. It’s one play fest after the next around here! I can keep myself entertained for hours playing with and watching them all play. I think the part I love the most, though, is the enthusiasm with which they go after life. They do everything with unrestricted abandon…and then crash into sleep almost before the play session is complete. Their needs and wants are so very simple: food, love, play time, interaction with others, and a soft and comfy bed or blanket on which to lay their weary heads when they need a break from all of that. So this Christmas, I wish to take to heart the unbridled kitten and puppy enthusiasm for life. And the ability to check out and nap just as convincingly!
2. The ability to love and accept everyone…even the difficult ones! I am sure everyone has a difficult relative or person that they must interact with during the holidays when they would rather not. I have to say I feel fortunate, because most of my extended family I do enjoy being around. But some are harder than others and require more patience than others. So this holiday season, I am wishing for patience and love towards all people…even the difficult ones. It doesn’t mean I have to like everyone the same, or have warm fuzzy feelings towards everyone I encounter. But I DO want to have an approach of open-heartedness, tolerance, and appreciation that everyone is dealing with “stuff”, and doing the best they can with the tools they have. This is an ongoing task to practice, as I often jump into reactive mode with people (especially relatives and loved ones) when I feel my chain is being pulled the wrong way. I can’t always catch the reaction before it happens…but I CAN increase my awareness of when I am likely to react, anticipate such, and sometimes choose a different path. I find that when I practice viewing people and circumstances as an outside observer would, I can more often laugh at or distance myself from feeling personally attacked or at risk. Family gatherings, stressful shopping trips, and dealing with the inevitable overwhelm of this time of year are some of the times when I get to practice this the most.
3. Good health, swift healing, and a positive attitude about both! When feeling down and out in any way, the holidays can increase the sense of discouragement if one isn’t careful. Being on crutches for the holidays is not fun. Actually, being on crutches anytime isn’t fun! But I find that I am having to work harder on my attitude this Christmas than many others. Some of the things I love most about the holidays are in full swing (the family gatherings, the singing of Christmas carols), some are happening, but with more difficulty (the holiday baking, the getting from place to place), and some just aren’t happening at all this year (skiing, snowshoeing, hiking on Christmas day, backpacking on New Year’s Eve…) It was tough for me when my son and his girlfriend headed out snowshoeing today to Mt. Baker…I would have given anything to go with them. My son, who knows this about me, offered to carry me on his back! But alas, this isn’t the year. So instead, I find myself having to be patient with the healing process, wish for a full and speedy recovery, and be grateful for what I can do that many others can’t. It’s not easy, and there are times I feel sorry for myself. But perspective is a wonderful thing, and all I have to do is look at my 89 year-old mother, who spends most of every single day sitting in a chair, to appreciate that I don’t have it so bad, and I will be able to get back at it in time.
4. Peace from within. This is possibly my most desired wish for this Christmas and beyond. Similar to the attitude of kindness towards others, sometimes I feel this sense of inner peace, and sometimes it’s a struggle to find and maintain. In putting it out there as a Christmas wish, I am choosing to keep it first and foremost in my awareness. I know I have a choice about how I approach everything, and I can choose to get rattled and phased, or to let things roll off of me. Of course there is a spectrum here, and some circumstances are much easier to stay calm within and about than others. Sometimes, it’s during my time alone that I experience inner unrest and turmoil, and sometimes time alone is my saving grace. Sometimes being with other’s can get me going, and sometimes I feel totally at ease. Sometimes I internalize and incorporate stress into my very body and being…and sometimes, I can just let it exist as one part of the scene without it dominating. It’s variable and often unpredictable, what shatters the inner calm when it was just present. But what I am learning and continuing to practice is that I CAN maintain an inner calm, even when the exterior is rough…if I so choose. I don’t have to get all stirred up inside, even when my outer circumstances have me fired up or anxious. The thing that helps me most with this is visualizing a body of water, like a lake. Even if the lake’s surface is rough, from wind, rain, or debris, not far below the surface, it is calm and quiet. Cultivating inner peace is an ongoing intention and practice, and a continued intention to be one with the lake! It’s a Christmas wish for every day of the year.
5. One more Christmas with my Dad… The last time I spent Christmas with my dad was four years ago, just days before he died. He’d had a five-way heart bypass two months prior to that Christmas of 2011, from which he never really recovered. My siblings and I knew when we hauled him and his oxygen tank to my brother’s house for that Christmas Eve that he wasn’t quite himself. We knew he was discouraged by his lack of progress, and that he’d struggled with apparent futility to get back into any semblance of his “normal” life before the heart surgery. We knew how much he abhorred being an invalid in ANY way, shape or form, and how hard it was for him to accept help of any kind. We knew he hated the oxygen tank, and that he would almost rather die than need it. We also knew if there was a place and time when my dad could and would be most himself, it would be at the traditional Christmas Eve gathering. He LOVED everything about Christmas Eve…the togetherness of family, the great food, the dinnertime conversations, and especially the singing of Christmas carols. Because he did all of those things that Christmas eve, none of us realized how close he was to death. In our eyes, and the eyes of the entire extended family, my dad was invincible. None of us believed that would be his last Christmas Eve, or that he would be back in the hospital the very next day. None of us could or would have fathomed that he wouldn’t make it out of the hospital on Christmas, or ever. But he didn’t come home, and he died peacefully and surrounded by family and loved one’s on the evening of December 27, 2011. If I had just one more Christmas with him, I would put him at the center of it all. I would bring him food, sit next to him, and keep him occupied with stories and thoughts of happy times and events. I would belt out every Christmas carol right there with him, and tell him how much I loved singing with him. I would make sure he knew how much I loved him, and how much of a positive influence he was in my life. I would celebrate his zest and passion for life, and acknowledge the role model he was for the entire family. And, as we gathered at my brother’s house last night, and all of these thoughts were in my head, I did silently dedicate the night to him, and I vividly felt his presence and zest for life. Merry Christmas Dad!
And Merry Christmas to you all as well! I hope the tangibles are as good as the intangibles!
Have a safe and happy New Year! I look forward to seeing you in 2016!