It’s the holiday season and most people feel a variety of emotions, from excitement to joy to depression to anticipation. Coming from a large family that always got together for Christmas, no matter where we all lived, there is some sadness in remembering how the holidays used to be, compared with how they are now. There is still joy and comfort. I’m especially grateful to have my beloved sister to visit with on Christmas Day, one of two siblings I still have - and I can't begin to convey my gratitude for having all the unforgettable Christmases I had with my family. But the holidays aren’t what they used to be, and now with both parents gone, I find myself feeling a bit orphaned and displaced this year.
It occurred to me the other day that there is a difference between being sad and feeling bad. Being sad can feel overwhelming when it knocks on the door, but like an unexpected and unwelcome visitor, eventually it leaves on its own. It can be a cathartic visitor, bearing stories and gifts that you didn’t even know you needed - like tears you've done everything in your power to avoid, taking you by surprise with their tender relief. It's the kind of visitor you needed more than anyone else - harmless and kind - and you don't realize it until it gets in the car and drives away. If you invite it in, it doesn’t stay long. If you avoid it, it goes from window to window, peering in, late into the night. It knows you're home, even after you turn out the lights.
Feeling bad invites a story. On a subtle level it says that something is out of place, shouldn’t have happened, happened before its time, happened to you personally. It’s like a visitor that arrives with an agenda. It bangs on your door until you open it, even though it sees that you have a doorbell. It doesn’t call before it stops by and doesn’t care if you had other plans and were on your way out the door. It gets in your car with you and comes along for the ride. It expects to be fed certain foods. Wants champagne instead of the beer that’s in your fridge. It also leaves eventually, but you kind of have to push it out the door, or yawn uncontrollably, hoping it gets the hint. And then you see that it packed an overnight bag and has no other plans than to crash on your couch until it decides to move along, but not before staying for breakfast and using the last of your milk for its third cup of coffee. It doesn't even try to talk you out of running out to the store for the bacon it had a hankering for.
I’ve rather be sad than feel bad.
That said, I find that there are little joys all around, easy to find if you look for them. You don’t have to look far. And once you start looking for them they kind of energetically line up, as if they are taking bets to see which of them can bring you the biggest smile.
As I was shopping the other day I heard someone singing the loudest Christmas carols I think I’ve ever heard anyone sing. It was the Salvation Army volunteer who was stationed outside the store on this bitterly cold day. That woman was singing with all her heart - belting out song after song like it was her personal assignment from God that day (and it was). She was incredibly off key, which in itself made me smile - but what made my heart smile was her carefree passion. She didn’t care who could hear her and at the same time hoped everyone could hear her. I think there were a lot of smiles that day.
Joy and sadness. Energetic soulmates. I welcome them both and wish you all a beautiful holiday season. I hope that joy surrounds you, and if sadness knocks on your door as well, invite it in. Let it tell you it’s secrets and share it's beauty. You might have to look closely for its beauty, but it's there. And before it leaves, I promise you it will leave a gift under your tree that you didn't even know you needed.