When I was a child I can remember that my mother had little ways of dulling excitement before it arrived. If I said I was looking forward to Christmas she’d say, “Don’t expect too much” or sometimes, if she was having a particularly difficult time she might tell us that she “Didn’t feel very Christmassy”. These aren’t the things you want to hear when you are a kid looking forward to Christmas.
When I grew up I realised that she was often unhappy and that unhappiness cannot be hidden forever. Worse still I’m not sure she had anyone to share it with. I felt it and often tried to carry it, though she did not ask me to.
In bed, waiting for the light to grow sufficient strength so that I can take Daisy for a walk, I am reading an article about books of the year and the one that catches my attention is “The Book Of Delights” by American poet “Ross Gay”.
In his book, he talks about the way in which noticing the delights that are available to us in our lives in some way seems to develop a “delight muscle” so that the more we do it the more capable we are of doing it. In the end, gratitude becomes an inevitability rather than a rarity.
Having pulled on my wellies and headed off to the park my sister and I remark how we haven’t seen the lake as high as it is for years. The benches are underwater and the model boat club won’t get in without a boat.
It begins to rain and my sister says, “It doesn’t feel very Christmassy”
Later we pass a notice which details the work to build a new dam along the side of the park which will require the removal of 300 trees that have stood for many more years than any of us have been alive. It upsets my sister and she says. “Sometimes I’d glad that I’m getting towards the end of my life.” It makes me think about my mum.
In Gay’s book, he points out that we all carry our own personal sorrows and tragedies. They emerge from us not necessarily in a linear fashion, but frequently through what appears to be a dulling of our ability to see that not everything is as bad as it seems.
Sickness, rejection, bereavement, trauma, and self-destruction. None of us are immune to any of them and Gay refers to them as our “wildernesses”, and he tells of a student he had who once asked, “What if we were to join our wildernesses together?”
In the pursuit of constant happiness and excitement perhaps we miss the parts of ourselves that benefit most from connection. It might be that through a mutual understanding of our struggles that joy and gratitude become easiest to spot.
Christmas is a time which many find difficult. Instead of being fixated on the idea that we must have an enjoyable time, maybe we are better to appreciate the opportunity we have if we are fortunate enough to be with other people, to join our wildernesses together.
My mum apparently often felt she didn’t have anywhere to take her wilderness. My sister and I, at the very least, have one another.
Don’t forget to catch the bumper Christmas edition of our podcast “Sideways”. We’re talking about why Christmas is a troubling time for recovering addicts and our fateful Christmas shopping trips from days gone by.
Finally, thank you for reading and I’d like to wish you a very enjoyable Christmas and a peaceful New Year when it comes.