This week has been a bit of a tough one, for many I think. I certainly have no singular claim on feeling blue over the holidays, and all it takes is pulling a few memories out of the bin from shifts I worked to realise that as a fact, if not just the abstract idea it is to many. I like to say that Christmas is just another day, that this is how I manage it and most other holidays that find fellowship and family at their heart. Mostly it’s true. Mostly, during the lead up to these things, it does make it easier and I manage not to feel grief, or self-pity, or just plain old everyday sadness, but I’m not a freaking robot and it’s still there. It’s tugging at my shirttails and was getting ever more insistent the closer we came to the day, to this day. It was like Tiny Tim poking at Scrooge McDuck.
And that, the horrible mixing not only of metaphors but a great literary work with a dodgy anthropomorphized cartoon bird, is my holiday gift to you.
There’s someone in my life now that I’ve been speaking with almost every day. A lovely poet and playwright living in a far away land, the land of my grandfathers, in a county called Derry. We have long and often funny conversations about subjects as diverse as plumbing a caravan to film adaptions of Kafka stories. I realised yesterday particularly, though still the days leading up to it, that this is not just another day at all and I’d had coping mechanisms in place that I was only subtly aware of. Except for the movies and TV shows I watched, which I stream, I avoided the Internet most of the day. I made a particularly stringent effort to not sit at my desk and scroll through Facebook, or to flip over to it every 20 minutes or so as I’m known to do while watching something from the comfort of the sofa with a wireless mouse beside me. I didn’t even think about it until I’d felt the need to explain going silent to this wonderfully engaging new friend.
For some reason I am still unsure of, last night as we spoke I found myself going off on a tangent describing all the terrific Christmas gifts that my mother, a single mom of an only child, had given me through the years. I described how they were never from her, but even up to the very last Christmas morning I spent with her how each carefully wrapped gift was “from Santa.” The portable typewriter I got when I was twelve (and still have), the drafting table for my paintings and drawings that was next to the tree when I was fifteen (how she hid that one, I’ll never know), and the magnificently thoughtful and useful little things she’d pick up throughout the year to shovel into the Christmas stocking until it was overflowing.
One of my earliest memories is of waking up Christmas morning to the sound of sleigh bells jingling outside my bedroom window that I now know was my father, but when you’re five it’s the coolest thing ever.
At the risk of letting anyone down, I should say that being alone on Christmas is as much my own doing as anyone else’s. A heavy portion of the fault for that rests squarely on my own shoulders, and I accept that. My inability to properly reach out to others as many have not done with me, or have stopped doing after so long being put off, is a result of both my injury and maybe my general nature. Mostly, I am sure, the injury, but nonetheless friends and family have been alienated by me as much as they have done the same to me. It’s a horrible thing, this agoraphobia. I’ve had more than one invitation this year, but distance and long drives…
Anyway, I read a quote this morning from the novel Diary, by Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club, but I’m not allowed to talk about Fight Club):
“It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.”
It was the perfect time to read this, and it made me smile. While I disagree quite a bit with that last sentence, it made me recognise something that had been lingering on my periphery all the time: Good memories of happy Christmases in the past aren’t to be put away no matter how bittersweet they may seem now. They are to be pulled out like postcards from distant friends and savoured, and that needs to be, always is, an effort. We can sit in the quiet dark touching our scars because that’s easy to do, or we can do the harder thing, use a little bit more of our psychological fuel to bring up the smiling and excited faces of those we miss most on a day like today because there was joy and sweetness there. Enough, I think, in reserve for us to use in the present.
This is not going to be a bad day. It may be a little melancholy, but it will not be bad because I will draw on my savings of good days, like Dickens tried to teach us in A Christmas Carol.
This morning I popped out to the store (which was closed, so I had to go to a gas station down the road) and as I did I checked my mailbox. In it was an envelope with a Royal Mail postmark and a return address in Northern Ireland. There was joy and sweetness inside that, as well. Who knows what the Ghost of Christmas Future has in store?