EDGE WISE: Happy holidays? Yes, happy holidays
Lee — All around us, the media displays its version of the winter holiday season. Happy families, grinning with anticipation of feasts, gifts, and games, relax in the comfort of multi-generational gatherings in safe and warm homes.
Yes, this may be an ideal we can each aspire to. But what about the pressure it creates to spend money far beyond our ability to pay the January bills? What about the traumatic memories it brings up for those people whose holidays were spent hiding in the safest space they could find to get away from people who preyed on them at such gatherings? What about the substitute families made up of those who accept us for who we really are when our birth families don’t? Or gatherings held in homeless shelters? Or places where people who don’t get paid days off for their religious holidays gather after a shift at work? What about the people who don’t have any place to gather where someone will smile and greet them when they walk in?
To cope with these harsh truths, I think about the idea many spiritual communities share: anyone can rejoice in the gift of just being alive, and be grateful for all that the world offers us, every day. Yes, many people struggle with poverty, violence, pollution, natural disasters, mental and physical illness, and the devastating effects these have. But as someone who is both a rape survivor and a depressive, I can say unequivocally that neither of these truths stops me from having a feeling, on most days, that life is worthwhile. On most days, I retain my sense of humor, curiosity to explore new places, and enjoyment of good food, good music, and good conversation.
When I am too despairing to remember these truths, I try to take my dad’s advice and “change the channel,” a technique that helped him cope with severe anxiety. Thinking of something else can work for a child about to have a temper tantrum and it can work for someone who is very anxious or depressed. Helping someone else and becoming physically active can, too. If I’m doing something physical, for myself or anyone else, I am distracted from being overtaken by the negative thoughts streaming through my mind.
A friend of mine meditates. Focusing in on just breathing, while sitting quietly and as comfortably as can be, is now part of the field of pain management and of many other treatment modalities. Whatever works to “change the channel” and replace negative feelings with positive ones is a wonderful, freeing gift to be able to give oneself.
I hope that this holiday season and throughout the year, we remember that giving can begin with how emotionally generous we are to ourselves. If we each take a deep breath and remember this, everyone else in our lives will feel the beautiful effects of that most important generosity. We can give our joy, our striving for good health, our forgiveness, our kindness, and our compassion. We can give our time and our positive attention to people who are not blessed with the gifts of a safe, peaceful, healthy or happy life. We can gift our money to help change the world for the better, and send a card to people letting them know that we honored our love for them with such gifts.
I am not minimizing the deeply challenging and painstaking work it takes to change ingrained behavior and justifiable feelings, to uproot negative patterns of thought, and to create motivation for change where fear and despair are holding us in their grip. Letting these go requires continuous dedication; it’s necessary to start over again and again. That’s what nurturing — whether of self or of others — demands of us. That’s why it’s so incredibly difficult and so incredibly uplifting at the same time. But it is possible, and available to everyone.
Happy holidays to you all, whenever and wherever your holidays occur, and may you bless yourself with whatever joy there is to be found around you.
Trina Porte has been reading her poetry, writing, and exhibiting her artwork for more than thirty years. A few favorite venues include Cornelia Street Café, Bluestocking Books, and Brecht Forum in New York, Patrick’s Cabaret in Minneapolis, Bet Gavriel Arts Center in Israel, and many public libraries. She lives in the woods with her wife and makes a fine genoise.
The weekly EDGE WISE column is curated by Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D., associate professor of comparative literature, gender studies and media studies at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and the Founding Director of the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. Women writers interested in publishing in EDGE WISE can find writers’ guidelines on the Festival website, or may submit queries or columns to Jennifer@berkshirewomenwriters.org.