I’ve been feeling all blurry and jagged edges lately, even on the heels of our nation’s most thankful day. The truth is, sometimes the holidays challenge me. All the brightly colored bows and the cheer and the consumerism are co-conspirators in a general ache that works its way into my soul. The juxtaposition of the over-the-top excess versus the never-quite-enough. (Think that horrible Kardashian card next to the collection bins for Wal-Mart employees who cannot make ends meet on their meager wages.) The sadness wrapped up in the celebration; the underlying knowledge that not everyone welcomes the holidays with open arms. Especially now, when one of my dearest friends — along with her closest community — is mired in a shared pain that cannot be fixed or soothed or remedied or revoked.
For most of my life, I’ve battled depression — with pills, with food, with tears, with the fetal position, with all available vices. I’ve always felt things deeply, all the way to the bottom of the well. I cried during every childhood episode of “Little House on the Prairie,” at every Hallmark commercial. I cry when I listen to sappy love songs, when I watch movies, when I read, when I sing, when I talk with my friends. It amuses my children to no end to watch me tear up at dolphin shows and band concerts and Broadway musicals. The vast ocean of my emotions is both my blessing and my curse.
For many years, I tried to hide it, to disguise it with a bright red bow and a ready smile. It was embarrassing to be the crybaby. I wanted to be tough and invincible and ready to kick the collective ass of the world. But I embrace my soft now. It is who I am. When you see me sobbing in my kitchen, when you hear my shaky voice on the other end of the phone line, 99 times out of 100, there is no need for alarm. Heavy emotion is how I process all the feelings this world offers up — the happy, the sad, the in-between. I don’t always know what to say to you in times of distress, but I always know how to feel with you, to help carry your pain in my own heart.
The truth underneath the twinkling lights and the joyous carols is that life is hard. For every single one of us. Fathers leave when we want them to stay, adults hurt children because they can, financial instability crushes us, beloved pets cross over, humans shame and judge one another, misunderstandings build walls, planes fall from the sky, friendships end, lovers leave, cancer spreads, hearts stop beating. I once believed in the notion that we create absolutely everything that comes into our lives. Now I call bullshit. To say that we create our own pain and devastation is akin to saying hurricane victims were thinking hurricane thoughts and AIDS-riddled children asked for their bodies to die a slow and painful death.
What happens is this: Life. Life happens to us all. Sometimes it is breathtaking and beautiful and full of promise and wonder and magic. Sometimes it breaks us into a million little pieces. Often, when we are on our knees begging for mercy, it kicks again. And then once more. To deny this common human experience to those enduring it is to inflict double the pain. We all suffer. And just because my trials and tribulations are not the same as yours, neither of our hurts should be diminished. Suffering is not an “I win” kind of game.
What the heartache and loss does offer is an eventual opportunity — the chance to figure out how to put ourselves back together again, how to raise our phoenix from the ashes, how to assemble the fragments into a workable whole to create something new and sustainable and even more beautiful. I’m not advocating sitting in our sadness, but ultimately, the only way out is through, no matter how long and arduous the journey. That is where the choosing occurs.
I remember when Gus was in the hospital, when every day was another vast unknown. Would today be the day he left us? Would today be the day he chose to stay? We did not — could not — know. Instead, we stood as sentinels beside our boy, willing him to live, wrapping him in our love and often, in our tears. One day, my sweet cousin came to visit, as many friends and family did. She stood beside us — her belly huge with her own soon-to-be-born — looking at our baby’s broken body, listening to the machines beeping life into his damaged lungs. She cried with us that day. And she hugged me through her tears and said simply, because there was nothing more to say, “I’m so sorry. This sucks.” And it did suck, in every possible way. There was a sacredness in the simplicity of her words. An acknowledgment of all the horrible that permeated every second of our lives during those five grueling weeks.
Sometimes, acknowledgment is all we can offer, and conversely, sometimes all that we need.
So, in this season of love and happiness and joy, I acknowledge that for some of us, it is not all celebration and light. And although I cannot take away the hurt that you must endure, the trials that you have been given, I can stand beside you. And if there is comfort in knowing your pain is seen — if there is a semblance of lightness in your heavy because someone else bears even a sliver of your burden — please know that I share it. Yours, mine, his, hers, theirs… I feel it all.
It is both my blessing and my curse.
But mostly, my blessing.