I have nearly 500 Christmas songs in my i-Tunes library. I-Tunes’ convenient math tells me if I were to begin playing Christmas songs when I awoke in the morning and continued to play them all day long, no song would repeat for over 24 hours. That’s a lot of Christmas music. I like Christmas music, usually. I prefer it on the more classical and jazzy side and in a typical year, I will turn it on sometime after Thanksgiving and keep it on all the way up to December 26th.
This year, I’ve listened to maybe a couple dozen of those songs.
My Christmas spirit is elusive this season.
My kids are no longer little, and although they still revel in the traditions of decorating our gingerbread house and our Christmas morning sourdough pancakes, they don’t have that wide-eyed wonder and giddy excitement like they used to. They want for much less, but what they want costs much more. Luckily, we have a nine-year-old dog, Max, who delights in the chaos of Christmas morning unwrapping as much as a toddler, so there’s that. Max makes us laugh.
I’m not depressed, but all the ho-ho-ho’s and the joy-to-the-world’s out there seem a tad forced this year.
So much loss.
Even before the Connecticut shootings and the Portland shootings, a young father of two in my neighborhood suffered a massive heart attack and died. I didn’t know him, but many of my friends and neighbors did. My community grieves. A close friend of mine was one of the first to arrive and perform CPR on him until the paramedics arrived. She is a registered nurse, so she knew the odds were stacked against them, but still. The sadness. Another family in Bothell had their two parents killed as a tree tumbled down on them as they drove across Stevens Pass. A family I didn’t know, but perhaps have bumped into at Starbucks or at the Y.
I am searching for grace.
I refuse to begin Christmas preparations before Thanksgiving, stubbornly attempting to “live in the moment,” much to the chagrin of eager retailers competing for my cash. The consequence of this decision means that I am sometimes thrust into the throngs of frenzied shoppers in the third week of December. This year, more than ever, I noticed their faces. Faces of fellow shoppers, glum and stressed. Faces pressed into their handheld electronic devices, oblivious to the other beings beside them. Few smile, if they even meet your eyes at all. Everyone rushing and distracted and unhappy, or so it seems. Where is grace?
At the end of my yoga classes, I always read a short passage or meditation as my class lays prone in savasana. The week following the Connecticut shootings, I read the traditional Buddhist “lovingkindness” (or metta) meditation. Anything else seemed, well…stupid. I asked my class to breathe in faith and breathe out doubt. What I say in my classes is often what I need to hear, too.
My faith is shot. Done. Dead. Nonexistent.
Breathe in faith, breathe out doubt. Breathe in love, breathe out fear.
The only time I was ever involved in organized religion was at a church where we were encouraged to sit with our doubt. To question our faith. We learned to not be afraid of asking the hard questions. As a daughter of two intellectuals with a father who was both a pastor and a professor, this made me happy. I ask why a lot. I like things that make sense. I often say in my classes that faith is that place of “knowing without knowing.” It is not a place that I go to easily.
Right now, it seems so very far away.
Today I stood alone in my kitchen, preparing our traditional Christmas cheeseball, i-Pod on loud, shuffling through anything but Christmas music. “Mercy” by Dave Matthews came on. I stopped in my tracks and cried. No, I bawled. Today, the lyrics seemed eerily prophetic and sadly appropriate:
“Mercy, will we overcome this? Have we come too far to turn it around?”
Lately, much of my solace and inspiration comes through music. (Just not Christmas music.) Sometimes in the most unexpected places. Artists expressing sorrow and rage, helplessness and strength. This week I read Amanda Palmer’s blog and her reaction to so much violence. She and her band will be performing Prince’s “Purple Rain” in it’s entirety on New Year’s Eve in New York City, and thus has been spending a great deal of time with the material. She posted the lyrics to Prince’s classic party song “Let’s Go Crazy” with a surprisingly inspirational twist:
“…And if the elevator tries to bring you down, go crazy—punch a higher floor”
Huh. Punch a higher floor.
I’m searching for grace. I’m fresh out of faith. I surely don’t have any answers.
But as I sit here on the eve of Christmas Eve with the gingerbread house decorated and my family accounted for and peppermint shortbread ready for the oven, this much I can do:
I can punch a higher floor. And go from there.