Word Medicine

Writing and Healing: exploring the art of healing and the healing of art

Christmas Preparations: What Are We Preparing For? December 7, 2015

I’m sitting in a waiting room listening to a woman telling another woman all about her Christmas preparations. She has “only” gotten her kitchen and bathroom decorated; she is going to be working up till December 24. She has fifteen people coming, kids and grandkids; she is going to have a honey-baked ham. She could buy them all gift cards, she says, but that seems too easy. So she is shopping for them. The other woman will be making a separate vegetarian meal for her son, and she will get him a gift card. “He never likes anything I get him, so I might as well.”

I like to tease that at Christmas, women do all the work, and a man (Santa) gets all the credit. Why do we do it? I suppose we do it for all sorts of reasons–tradition, habit, others’ expectations. But I think we also do it with the hope of creating a protected space and time where we can come together with our loved ones and celebrate the gifts of life and of each other. We all long for those magic moments.

Every year, despite the failures of years past, we hope anew. Christmas, with its symbolism of abundance, brings us perilously close to our naked need for affirmation, connection, approval. We all have need and we all have abundance, and the holidays make us aware of both. The wish for the perfect gift, the one that shows that we are understood and cherished, lurks even in the most jaded of us. The fear of being let down is equally present. The wish to give, to make sure we have satisfied a love one, exists with the dread that we can’t. Managing our own and others’ expectations can make us stressed, exhausted and unhappy–the opposite of what we really desire.

While getting rid of all the material aspects of Christmas might seem like the solution to this dilemma, I think more to the point is recognizing the difference between matter and spirit. As Gertrude Mueller Nelson writes in her book, To Dance with God, “we can prepare and put forth the form to catch something of the Spirit, but we cannot supply the Spirit.” There is nothing wrong with abundance, with beauty and tradition. Where we get into trouble is in confusing the symbol with reality. 0b32cf2b9e8c308943e5c5cf61875b00

No gift will ever create love–it can only point to a love that is already there. We cannot make anyone happy, we can only invite their happiness. Our holiday celebrations will never be perfect. If we are lucky, they will be messy, with imperfect giving and receiving, but also with genuine moments of connection. And maybe a honey-baked ham.

 

La Vida January 26, 2011

Filed under: Chronic Illness,Spirituality — saratbaker @ 6:52 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Today is cold and blustery.  The rain finally gave out after almost twenty-four hours.  I woke in the night to hear it pelting angrily at the roof and windows, and I hoped our hundred year old house would not spring any new leaks.  This morning there were a few last hiccups of rain, and then scudding low gray clouds.  I couldn’t pull myself out of bed for my exercise class, whether because of the lingering virus Todd and I have been passing back and forth, or the exhaustion that is always at my elbow, ready to take over.  All my pretty plans evaporated.  It would be a day of letting what would be, be.

Thankfully, G., our Peruvian housekeeper came after missing a week because of snow.  The house was beginning to turn into a monster, making me feel even more out of control, so I looked forward to her ministrations as I always do.  G. came to me  over a decade ago, in the midst of the worst of my illness, when I could barely stand up.  The first time I was supposed to meet her, I drove all around town, losing my way.  I was still so sick with fibro fog that I couldn’t navigate the town I had grown up in.  When we finally did meet up in the parking lot of a video store, there stood this young, beautiful woman.  She did wonderful work, but even more than that, over the years, we have shared all the ups and downs of “La Vida”, including teenage children, stubborn husbands, the deaths of those close to us–all in an animated Spanglish.  She is such a bright presence, laughing over the animals’ antics, enthusiastically rearranging the furniture, conferring over various domestic decisions.  I call her my angelita.

Today she told me about her talented, impetuous son, a musician studying film Atlanta.  At twenty, he is living at home to save money, but he also wants to live as if he were independent. She feels he is in danger of failing the school they have borrowed money to pay for. He is in a relationship they feel is distracting him from his responsibilities. I have watched  G. and her husband work hard to become legal, sacrificing their own comforts to give their two children every opportunity in this country.  We shake our heads and shrug.  La Vida.

The door bell rings and it is B., our itinerant yard man.  He stands there dripping wet in his jacket.  The trees toss wildly in the wind; it is freezing. “Sara, do you have any work?”  I know that he has probably walked miles from the other side of town in this god-awful weather, to earn a few bucks.  He tells me his pension hasn’t come in yet, he just needs to eat.  We have a long history, B and me.  I’ve long given up the idea that things will change for him, an idea I worked hard to help realize in the first twenty years of our acquaintanceship.  I was encouraged at Christmas–things seemed to be getting better for him, he was going to school to learn to read (he has a learning disability) and he was going to church, trying to “get himself together.”  But he came by a few days ago and he had been drinking.  This is how it goes.  Today, I had  little money and  little work, but enough.  The overgrown dead plants in my garden needed cutting back, a chore that I’d put off.  I had just been thinking yesterday that the garden looked raggedy, that I wish B. would come by.  And here he was.

Tired as I was, I knew I’d feel better if I got out and walked.  Besides, I hate the guilt of shorting my dog on her walks.  The air was bracing, and it felt good to be out walking, moving through world.  The light played over the streets and trees and houses the way it does often at the ocean, patches of illumination giving way to shadow.  A flock of starlings landed in the bare branches of an oak.  The air smelled clean from all the rain.

Walking, I though of our priest’s sermon, how he always remembers the poor, admonishing us to reach out to those who have less than us.  I’ve noted on my blog before  Nancy Mairs, poet and essayist, saying that “all persons have abundances and all have lacks….your abundance may fill someone’s lack, which you are moved to fill….”  This remains one of my touchstones.  To me, G. and B. and I are all poor, in our own ways.  G and B perform physical task for me and I give them money.  But there is so much more to the transactions than these simple facts.  There are years of trust, loyalty, mutual regard.  So on a day when I am keenly feeling my own lacks, I am also feeling my keenly my abundance.

 

 

 

 
%d bloggers like this: