December 21, 2016 by Julia
After an isolating week of sick days and then an ice storm that had us housebound for one more day, I suddenly hit a low on Saturday. You know how that is, right? Doing fine, just fine, doing okay, yep we’re handling it, all of a sudden NOT FINE AT ALL. I knew I needed to get out of the house and see people in order to feel better, but after a week of hibernation it seemed impossibly difficult, too – the introvert’s conundrum: having social needs even when your most comfortable state is to be alone at home in pajama pants. Comfort is not enough, though, and extended isolation is not good for any person. I kept thinking, how did pioneer women survive like this, in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, no one to talk to but her own kids and husband? It’s intense to be only with your immediate family, even if you enjoy them. So yeah, for about two days I was depressed, and was trying to write my way back to a place of hope, because that’s half the reason I write.
The thing about love in this world is that sometimes it hurts. The pain doesn’t mean we are doing it wrong, though. Part of true love is allowing our loved ones to suffer on their own terms, and somehow bear it alongside them without trying to steal it away. It’s a daily challenge with our children, who have their hard lessons to learn just like we did – maybe even with the same amount of pain that we learned ours, even as it breaks our hearts. But it’s also true of friends and partners. We usually can’t remove the problem for them. The best we can do is allow them to have it, to talk about it and cry or rage about it, so that we can help carry the burden of it. All of this hurts. Love hurts.
It also hurts when you have to dig deep in order to show love in a responsible way. I grow weary of the lopsided love of parenting, the double standard of always having to be the adult, figuring out what we’re doing today, of not stooping to the level of insults even as my children fling them around like new toys. I am not implying I succeed on that front; I just know that’s how it should be, that there IS a different standard for adults than children, and that sometimes I have to draw upon mental strength from unknown reserves in order to refrain from acting like a child right along with them, because I’m mad and tired and sad and selfish, too.
But I have experience and wisdom on them, I know better than they do how words and actions can hurt others, even as it releases all the pent-up frustration in me. So I have to take the hurt of that frustration onto myself, out of love, rather than releasing it onto them in some scattershot, damaging way. For the record, I only know about this dynamic because I have failed at it more times than I can count. I have said terrible words to my daughter in the heat of the moment – nothing worse than what she is saying to me, but I have thirty years on her. I know better, and I can do better, if I am willing to suffer for love.
I have to remain strong for them when I’m frightened, too. Sometimes I get scared that I can’t hold back the darkness on my own. (Of course I am not doing it on my own, but when I’m scared it feels that way.) It’s funny how around the time you stop being scared of the literal dark, you become aware of a greater unknown darkness, and you also realize that you are the wall between it and your children until they are old enough to deal with it on their own. That if I give up packing lunches and cleaning the house and enforcing some routine we will have to answer to the bigger questions, the swirling black hole of the universe. They are too young. I have to keep the darkness at bay for them a little while longer, just letting it through in manageable increments, answering their deep questions while driving or putting them to bed, but never leaving them alone with the vast terrifying emptiness of no one taking care of you and no one telling you what to do. It scares me, too. But I love them, and I will protect them in all of the ways that a mother should, for as long as I should. Sometimes, love hurts.
I can suffer for love if I have faith that it matters. Sometimes I lose that faith. I begin to doubt that anything will make a difference in this screwed-up world, on a small scale or on a grand scale. I feel hopeless at times. That is my depression kicking in, trying to be all smart, smarter than the hopeful happy people. Obviously, they don’t know what I know, or they wouldn’t be so happy. They signed away their intelligence in the name of a semi-pleasant but boring, hypocritical existence.
I don’t know who these supposed lightweights are, whom I imagine as being different from me and my morose brethren. As I get older, I realize these untroubled superficially happy people don’t actually exist; they are imagined by sad cynics trying to feel superior in their sadness. And I realize that facing reality with intelligence is not a barrier to feeling good about life. If I make it one, then I am being smart in the wrong way, I am doing it wrong. Like, I actually want to feel happy, too. An honest state of well-being must surely be the ultimate intelligence, just as kindness is the ultimate wisdom. Is it possible to be happy-ish without denial? That’s what I want. Just to be okay, able to deal with all the ups and downs without feeling like the world is ending. To expect the usual disasters but not dread them, or worry needlessly about them. To see the good, too.
I really keep coming back to faith, hope and love. They are braided together like rising bread. To act in love requires faith that your love will make a difference in the world. To have faith, you must have hope; they are almost the same thing. To have hope you must allow yourself to be vulnerable, open – usually the only way to get to such a place is through love. Cynical beliefs can be spot-on, totally justified, the most right there is; but without hope, all you have is disappointment, and that is no way to live, whether you are spiritually inclined, or not. Depressed smart-asses of the world: History shows there is reason to hope, too.
I only address you as one of you. I have been on both sides, among the hopeful and the hopeless. I have been depressed and anxious this year partly because that is just part of who I am and it comes and goes for me; but also because of world events, because of the fact that America has (kind of, sort of) chosen the greediest, most power-hungry, careless man imaginable as our leader. I didn’t believe that it was possible before the election. Now, it’s difficult to look back at my naïve pre-election self without mocking the faith I had in humanity.
But I won’t mock it. Because there is reason for that faith. I see it in my Facebook feed, even. I see it in my husband’s eyes, in the small kindnesses of strangers, in the way neighbors still put out twinkling lights for everyone to see this time of year, even though it is freezing outside and it’s a lot of work. People are still doing work for the sake of beauty and the community.
So, Christmas. It can be so pristine, mystical, wonderful. Half the time I experience that side and love it; the other half of the time I get anxious or exhausted trying to create it for my family.Will the cookies turn out okay? Will we survive multiple parties in one weekend? Why does the star on the tree always look crooked? What if I don’t manage to get the family out to do Christmas-y stuff this year? (I already have, so calm down, self.)
But this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about welcoming the imperfections and detours of every holiday season. There is a place for the sick days, the stressed days, the tacky decorations, the cheap, the best efforts of someone who hardly had the time or energy. There is beauty in the handmade Kindergarten crafts and in the cluttered wall of greeting cards, too. Even in the yard full of inflatable Santas. There is no right or wrong way. All effort counts. People are trying to add their own brand of cheer to the world, and that is connecting us. I know how much work it is to put out those holiday lights. The fact that so many people take the time and energy has touched me this year like no other.
These holiday traditions are the stuff of life – eating, baking, gifting, homemaking, celebrating, wassailing, caroling. If not this, what? If not each other, who? We are all trying, here. The trying is faith, hope and love.
And yes, it hurts to see the beauty in humanity right now, because I am scared for us, but I love us. Love hurts. But it is worth it.
Sending you love this Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year. May you find the hope and faith you need to act in love.