Ah, Christmas! I hate to admit, Christmas has never been my favorite time of year. My early memories of Christmas are a mixture of the frantic but joyful opening of gifts and difficult family fights or tragedies. In my twenties, my ex-husband and I did our best to create traditions for ourselves, but we were both from divorced families with designs on our time and could never really settle into a routine. More recent years have seen me vacillating between trying to make the holidays happy for those I love and refusing to participate altogether.
A few days ago, I took a nine-mile run along one of my usual routes. I wanted to get some space to feel the complex feelings that come up for me this time of year. I know I’m not the only one whose relationship with Christmas is, shall we say, volatile. I’m a psychotherapist, after all, and my client hours often increase in November and December as people wrestle with faith, family, and expectations. And I have plenty of friends who negotiate with exes and in-laws and divorced parents for a little space of their own this time of year.
As I ran, the trails were damp with dew from the night before, and I passed at least two dozen other walkers and runners doubtless working off the holiday meals they were about to indulge in. When I hit the part of the trail that intersects with a pleasant neighborhood neatly decorated with holiday lights and cheerful blow-up snow-people, I suddenly started to cry–and couldn’t stop. I kept up my pace, hoping I wouldn’t see anyone I knew and have to stop to say, “Merry Christmas.” Memories of difficult holiday experiences came flooding forward; news stories of violence around the world flashed into my consciousness, making me feel helpless; thoughts of estrangements from people I used to know well closed in on me; and the realization that my grandmother, who died this year, would not be here to gather her large, dysfunctional family together for her annual holiday blitz suddenly felt very real.
I ran a little harder than usual, letting the cold air on my face remind me that I am a part of a larger whole–an imperfect universe made up of people, animals, trees, wind, governments, pollution, and yes, grief. As I neared my turnaround point, the lump in my throat cleared up a little, running doing its faithful duty to let me feel and move me through the worst of it. On my way back along the trail I reflected on the past year, how loss had been followed quickly with joy. One of my besties had a baby this year. Another one reached weight loss goals that have been beyond her reach in the past. I spent countless hours enjoying being Bill’s partner in this life and playing with the four-legged creatures in my house. And I got a new book contract to co-edit a book on a topic that is near to my heart.
It dawned on me as I plugged my way back up the last long hill toward home at the end of my run that a person has to have a lot of audacity to face life day after day. She has to have the nerve to get up in the morning, knowing that the next hours could just as easily hold joy and bring good news as they could usher in devastation and crushing blows. In fact, each day holds both happiness and tragedy–somewhere in this universe that connects us all.
When I reached my front door, I was done with my cry and was glad I’d gone out, although I’d spent at least an hour trying to talk myself into taking the run in the first place. When you feel blue, burdened with memories or grief, I hope you have the nerve to go out and run through it. Each singular breath you take is really the only one that you can count on. In my opinion, there’s no reason to be afraid of hard feelings, as long as we don’t become attached to and hold onto them. And I know of no better way to let them run their course than to run.
Here’s farewell to 2011, and here’s to the audacity we need to face all that 2012 will bring head on! Cheers.