Merry? Christmas

The usual Christmas greeting in the United States is “Merry Christmas!” Merry meaning cheerful, jolly, festive.

I am not any of those.

As I have been writing about in several recent posts, I offloaded many of my usual Christmas preparation tasks to other adults in the house, concentrating on the few that really needed my attention. To be honest, some, like decorating, I just could not bring myself to do; they are too evocative. We have many ornaments that came to us from B’s mom; this is our second Christmas without her. With my mom under the care of hospice and my dad, at 92, not getting around as well as he used to, this is the first Christmas in many years that neither my parents nor my sisters will see our decorated tree.

Much about this Christmas has been bittersweet. My daughters E and T were invited by the music director that they sang and rang handbells with as children and teens to sing with the adult choir at her current church for Advent and Christmas. It was lovely to have them sing at the late evening mass on Christmas Eve, two young women among a group that is composed largely of people old enough to be their parents or grandparents. It is wonderful for them to have a chance to sing together as they did for so many years, but we all know that it is likely the last time they will be living here together, as E and baby ABC will likely join L in London when E’s spousal visa comes through in mid-2018.

Father Clarence began the homily by recounting early memories of celebrating Christmas and how the family gathering changed and diminished over time through death and moves and other obligations. It reminded me that I have a lot of company in the bittersweet department.

It also caused me to reflect on something that has been difficult for me in this part year. People keep advising me to enjoy the time with my daughters and granddaughter and parents, setting aside any thoughts of what we know the future will/might hold.

I can’t.

While I know some people can concentrate on only the present moment, it is not a skill I have mastered. It’s not even a skill that I can convince myself I want to master.

One of the sweet moments today was watching ABC eat the filling from pumpkin pie with whipped cream for the first time. It matters to me that the recipe we use is the same one that my mom made for us for many years until we took over the holiday pie-baking duties. It matters that my mom was sitting on the other end of the couch, watching her great-granddaughter grabbing the spoon of filling and cream and enjoying the new food – after the first few bites when she was adjusting to the new taste and texture. It matters that B’s mom, who was always telling us stories about her friends’ great-grandchildren, passed away before ABC was conceived. It matters that next year, ABC may be in London for Christmas and none of us know which other faces will be missing from our holiday celebration.

While it might be nice to be “merry,” I know that I can’t give up my connections with the past and my realistic projections of the future to create a merry present. Today, I have learned that it is possible to be feel simultaneously bittersweet and content.

Wishing Christmas blessings to those celebrating and the gifts of peace and loving-kindness to all!

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Lava and Inside Out

In keeping with family tradition, my daughter E and I went to the movies this morning to see the Pixar film Inside Out, which premiered yesterday.

One of the many things I love about Pixar films is that there is a short before the main feature. This one is called “Lava” and is a love story – with volcanoes. E and I, sitting here in Honolulu, with our spouses thousands of miles away, both got teary. It is beautifully rendered and so touching.

Inside Out is the story of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley as she moves to San Francisco from Minnesota and what is going on inside her head, as told through her emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. We also occasionally get glimpses into other characters’ emotion quintet, which is both enlightening and entertaining.

The best adjective I can come up with to describe the movie is poignant. Having once been eleven and having two daughters who were once eleven, I found myself empathizing with Riley as she tries to navigate a difficult situation. Yes, E and I did some more crying.

At the end of the credits, the filmmakers dedicate the movie to their children, asking them not to grow up, but, as E and I discussed later, that wasn’t really the point. Growing up is complicated and necessary and one’s own work and responsibility. E and I talked over lunch about how undesirable/impossible it is for parents or anyone else to make someone happy – or even to be happy a lot of the time. We were both glad that the emotion is named Joy rather than Happiness. ¬†Joy is deeper and more able to integrate with the other emotions than happiness could ever be.

Wishing you all as much Joy as possible,
Joanne