Do You Feel Seen and Heard?

mariaS12.21 The Sunday Paper
"The song is ended, but the melody lingers on."
—Irving Berlin

For many of us, the holidays are a complicated time. So many emotions come up. So many memories flood our brains. It almost requires a daily practice to keep them all in check and from bubbling over.

I’ve found that this time of year requires a delicate dance. You may be feeling festive, joyful, or celebratory one moment, and then all of a sudden feel flooded with emotions from holidays of the past. You may find yourself missing people who are no longer part of your life, longing for traditions you no longer have, or struggling to implement new traditions. You may find yourself caught up in the madness and then find yourself trying to do your part to do less and keep it simple.

I find myself really cognizant of people’s swirling emotions at this time of year. Some fear that they can’t give what others are giving, others are anxious about not being able to keep up or keep it all together. I’m also mindful of my own emotions. One moment I’m decorating the tree with my granddaughter, laughing and dancing to Christmas songs, and the next moment I’m overwhelmed by memories of my kids when they were little and tears fill my eyes.

I’ve also been having a whole range of conversations lately within my own family and circle of friends about the holiday season. It seems like everyone has a wildly different take on it. I have friends who don’t celebrate Christmas at all. I have friends who have a strict gift policy of one gift per adult child. I have friends who give cash, and others who believe in experiences. I have some friends who travel, and others who refuse to do so. I have friends terrified about the omicron variant and others who believe it’s not worth stressing over. I have friends who are already focused on the new year and their intentions, and others who have sworn off the whole “new year, new you” idea.

As usual, there is no right or wrong way to be heading into this season. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Each of us comes to this time of year with our own thoughts, our own memories, our own hopes, and our own anxieties. But this I know for sure: there are a lot of big feelings in the air. There are a lot of big emotions swirling about. It’s hard to escape.

It’s also hard to escape all the updates pouring out of Washington D.C. about the January 6 commission. Every day it’s something wilder than the day before. It’s news that matters. It’s information that will, in many ways, determine how our democracy will survive. But it’s a lot to try to stay up to date on.

There’s just so much news that we all have to pay attention to these days, including the latest information about the shockingly fast-spreading omicron variant. We know it’s more transmissible (yet potentially less severe), it may be somewhat resistant to our vaccines (though booster shots appear to help the immune system put up a fight), and it is creating an even more uncertain future. Ed Yong’s recent piece for The Atlantic is a powerful reminder that we need to think of ourselves as a collective, rather than rely on individualism, if we want to beat this variant and the rest that are undoubtedly to come.

There’s also our climate crisis, which has most recently left so many of our fellow citizens in Kentucky without homes or Christmas gifts this season. Millions of us are blessed, and yet there are millions among us who are not.
That’s why this holiday, I want to focus on what’s within our own individual supply chains: love, compassion, care, and understanding. Those are the gifts that are truly priceless. Perhaps the best way for all of us to go into this time of year is to be grateful for what we already have and to be sensitive to our fellow life travelers by sharing our time and holding space for them. 

Actually holding space for others during this emotional time is a precious gift we can each give to one another. It requires no money or running around. It simply requires us to ask another person if we can hold space for them while they share what they are feeling.

If you don’t have a safe space—if you don’t have someone who can create one with you or hold one for you—then it’s hard to work through whatever it is you need to work through, be it discovering your purpose, trying to understand what’s ailing your relationship, or unpacking what’s robbing you of joy or causing you pain.

Everyone has stuff to unpack. That’s just the truth. A friend texted me the other morning to tell me she was down. She said, “I’m crawling back up. A man who I thought was the one knocked me back, and now I’m struggling. It doesn’t matter that it makes no sense. It’s just really hard for me right now to not have a partner at the holidays.”

I get it. I bowed out of a Christmas party the other night simply because I didn’t want to go alone. The next night, I pulled myself together and rallied. Life is like that. It’s really like that during the holidays.

So let’s tread lightly. Let’s do our best to help our neighbors and to hold space for our friends. Let’s not judge when a Christmas song makes someone cry, or when a friend who is alone doesn’t feel celebratory. Everything is permissible. Everything is understandable. Everything is human.

I’m looking forward to being with my family. I’m looking forward to going to mass, to hearing "Silent Night" and crying, to watching movies, to listening to my kids, and to holding space for them. My wish is that they all can enter this new year from a calm and centered space.

I’ll do everything I can to help them, and to help myself do the same. That’s my intention for myself and for you. 

Last night, a dear friend said to me, “I wish I’d known that the goal in life was to get to a place where all the people around your table are real and true friends. I wish I’d known that what I really wanted from life wasn’t fancy stuff, but a small, intimate group of people who I knew loved me and who made me feel safe, seen, and loved.”

That is the greatest gift anyone can ask for. That’s the greatest gift that life can give. That’s an intention worth focusing on.

So, to you, my friends, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Here’s to a new year of kindness and compassion. Here’s to all of us doing all we can to bolster our democracy and to support those trying to support it and us. Here's to setting intentions to live our wildly authentic lives.

See you next year.




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