One of the reasons I don’t write about extended family is because it’s a complicated subject. There are lots of hurt feelings, practically an ocean’s worth of water under a very long bridge, and for most of my adult life, I have chosen to remove myself from the chaos. For several years now, I haven’t spoken much, if at all, to any of my relatives on either side of my splintered family, a practice that is equally liberating as it is isolating.
The truth is, I carry around an awful lot of pain and sadness, big armfuls of agony I’ve somehow managed to collect one way or another. Hard as I might try to shutter away the darkness and to pay extra close attention to the good and the beautiful, it is always there, right under the surface, and it comes out to haunt me when I least expect it.
Like during the Holidays, for instance.
Now, I love love love the Holidays. I’m usually very merry and bright, leaving all the scrooging and the grinching to my better half, who has so perfectly perfected the art of the “Bah Humbug” it’s almost poetic. I have my moments, don’t get my wrong, and they usually involve not enough sleep and too much tantrumming on the part of the children. More than once this season I threatened to cancel Christmas if the squabbling didn’t stop, which it did (sort of), but my point is that I’m not usually one to struggle with finding the jubilation akin to this time of year.
But! For every ounce of joy there is an ounce of sorrow, and for maybe the first time, I noticed how intertwined the two had become. Almost indistinguishable. It’s hard to explain, so the best I can do is to say this. It’s a bittersweet thing, knowing my children will never, not for one second, wonder where they belong, all the while wondering myself how I ended up an orphan with two living parents and whole host of relations scattered across California and Nevada.
We listened to a lot of carols this year. Pandora provided an excellent soundtrack, courtesy of the She + Him Holiday station, from the day before Thanksgiving right up until the tail end of Christmas Night (a compromise, because some of us don’t like carols so much), and more than once was I stopped dead my tracks by the lyrics to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.
I have heard this song hundreds of times, easily. It’s featured in one of my all time favorite movies, and it might be my favorite Christmas song, though I’m loath to pick a favorite because there are just too many good ones. But I digress.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light.
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.
So I got to thinking. What would happen if I did just that, if I set down the burden of my heavy heart even for just one day? So on the night before Christmas, when all the children were snug in their beds and the stockings were hung over the couch with care, I stared at the the glowing branches of our tree and said a little prayer.
Dear Christmas Spirits, bless me with peace and good will, that I might be an example of peace and good will in the coming year. And also, please help my baby to sleep. That would really be a Christmas Miracle. But mostly, I want the peace. Sleep could help me be peaceful, just saying. Amen.
Naturally, the kids woke before the sun, before the baby even. The presents were all unwrapped by 7 AM, and the new french press was put to immediate use. The Radio City Christmas Spectacular (which is really only spectacular in person) was streaming, and I was just starting to make the cranberry sauce, when I got a text message from my mother.
Now, my mother and I have about as tumultuous a history as any mother and daughter could. Those wounds are deep, and they are ugly. As such, I can count on three fingers the number of times I have responded to her text messages over the last four years. I mustered up the courage to return her greeting with a similar sentiment, and that is when she asked to come over for a visit.
Ordinarily, I would have ignored her request completely. But I was compelled otherwise, and shocked the hell out of myself when I actually obliged.
What followed was quite possibly the loveliest afternoon she and I have shared since I can’t remember when. Maybe ever. It shall henceforth be remembered as the day I let my heart be light.
And that, my friends, is the caveat. It is not something that just happens. Like, Hey! Your heart is light! No no no, that would be far too simple and requires no effort on the part of the heavyhearted. It’s a choice, and maybe it’s not an easy choice to make. But for all the folks out there ladened with lugubrious baggage as I am, take it from me. Do yourself a favor and set that shit down. And definitely don’t wait until next Christmas to do so.
Let your heart be light.
Here’s hoping your Christmas was every bit as magical.