"No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.” – Charles Dickens
The holidays are an incredible paradox for me. On the one hand they are a celebration of love, gratitude, and the meeting of hearts in this world where we so often forget the joy that should be so obvious. On the other, I am often reminded of the things I lack, of the family gathered around the tree.
I’ve made no secret of my mental health and the daily battles I wage with it. It’s often the hardest thing in the world for me to feel worthy of the glance of another, and it has, at times, been difficult to see why I should continue to breathe. The holiday season can often be the greatest struggle for me, and so I have traditionally embraced Christmas as a time when I would be better, when I, like the reformed Scrooge, would keep the true meaning in my heart.
This Christmas felt different though. For the first time in a long time, I felt no joy, no warmth, just the motions of the holiday season. I was a ghost, a husk of the person I wanted to be, walking through the days and nights of the holidays with little more than a glance at the lights that used to draw my gaze for hours. Had I lost something? Was I truly broken now? I didn’t know, but I was determined to keep going through the steps and hope, with the last bit of hope I thought I had.
It’s hard to say what it is that happened, where my heart opened and the sun rose in my spirit. Maybe it was the power of a group of drums beating a warm and welcoming heartbeat with me among them. Or maybe it was simpler; showing the smile to the woman who waited to see it cross my face for months or a simple ornament reminding me to be thankful because others are thankful for me.
Was it wearing the coat and boots of Santa that did it? It is almost impossible not to smile and feel your heart leap when the eyes of a child behold that most beloved of figures. It’s hard to see yourself as someone worthy of hate when you stand in front of those eyes and understand that children have not forgotten unconditional love, not even for a moment.
Or did I find it baking stollen, a recipe from my childhood, a ritual of solace for myself in darker days? I have baked this bread by hand for years, sharing it with people, and holding on to some of the rare happy memories I have in a very lengthy past. It’s more than bread though, it is always a reminder of a greater truth for me, that when we labor for others, serve others, we find something greater within ourselves as well.
It’s in all of those moments and more. I found this warmth in countless phone calls and the wonderful discussions that arose from them. There was pure joy in the relationships I built, in the family that I found over the years, and continue to grow. It’s in the people I work with, the people I randomly encounter, the one man who comes in to buy a paper and a coffee like a disciplined clock.
The greatest truths are the most simple, and this one is no different. The truth is that I found that joy and warmth again in the persistent love of others, and my true wish to love them in return.
Regardless of your religious belief, or lack thereof, the message of Christ was simple. Love people. It is a task that most of us will never fully complete in a thousand lifetimes. We will stumble, cursing the driver who cut us off or wishing misfortune upon the inconsiderate. It’s the tragic nature of human beings to so easily cast aside the capacity to love one another, our greatest gift. Love is something beyond labels and identity, beyond buildings and symbols, and something we all crave because, quite simply, it is what feeds every single soul.
I started this with a quote from Dickens and I think I should finish my own Christmas Carol with one of his as well, with a reminder to all of us. A simple reminder to love others, all others, whether we understand their sadness or their suffering, whether it is obvious or not. The reason for the season isn’t gifts, feasts, the right membership to the right club, the book you read from, or the name you have for God.
No, the true meaning is to love other people as a child loves, without condition, to meet that challenge of remembering the parts of your heart that may be scarred and yet still are what they have always been.
“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”