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Four Ways The Holidays Can Suck: Embracing Both The Light and The Dark With Friends By Our Side

“La mucha luz es como la mucha sombra: no deja ver” ~ “Too much light is like too much shadow: it does not allow one to see” -Octavio Paz.

What Is There To Be Grateful For?

Let’s face it, just because the holidays are on a calendar does not mean that everyone is on the same schedule to feel the spirit of joy and celebration. Every person faces suffering. Here are four common shouts of pain that we don’t talk about at the annual holiday party.

Four Ways The Holidays Can Suck:

  1. Loss: For some, holidays are anniversaries of being without a loved one. Some losses are due to death. Other losses occur with work or relationship changes. Someone, for example, may face a holiday without a child or grandchild due to custody arrangements after a divorce. Loss takes countless forms.
  2. Finances: For others, a career or life challenge has them lamenting how much less they have to spend compared to their peers or to their own spending habits in years past.
  3. Family: For still others, time with family may actually bring up anxiety, doubt and fear as they struggle with the past and with thoughts of shame and blame that are in us all.
  4. Vitality: Then there are those with physical and emotional struggles. They search for the energy to get out of bed while they see so many around them are celebrating. Feelings like joy, are vacant for now. Whatever the cause, we all face pain and suffering. It becomes misery, however, when we add to it the expectation that we should not be feeling what we are feeling or when we are alone.

One Man’s Story

I read recently about a man who faced his childhood losses and turned it into work that touched the lives of others. As a young boy he faced his mother’s death from cancer and saw his father drift into depression. Looking back as an adult, he found language to describe his experience:

“With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, pleasures and many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”

Don’t we all have our own version of this at some point in life?

As this little boy grew into manhood he grappled with his beliefs.

“I was at this time living, like so many atheists and anti-theists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing.”

He gradually shifted his cynical view into a fruitful one that would touch many lives and transform his own. His change in perspective was not a lightning bolt or overnight experience. He would continue to be shaped by loss and wrote with a vulnerable heart about the death of his wife years later. Despite all this loss, he came to rely upon his common sense to eventually observe:

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”

A Brother By His Side

During his childhood he had a brother who was his constant companion and closest friend. They spent countless hours exploring the gardens, forests and fields around their country home. On rainy days, they climbed into an old wardrobe and told each other stories about talking animals, magic kingdoms, and the knights and dragons that inhabited faraway lands.

We are speaking, of course, about C.S. Lewis, who wrote a wildly popular series of children’s fantasy books, The Chronicles of Narnia.

About Human Suffering

About human suffering C.S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a dead world.” (The Problem of Pain, 93).

Since there are no simple answers to the mystery of pain, perhaps it is in the stories and the presence of others who have faced the darkness and returned, that we may find the grace to hold both the dark and the light of our own life.

Why Hold Both?

Why not? We are already holding both, whether we realize it or not. Why not have a good cry and then go to a holiday party? This isn’t pretending. This is being fully human and fully alive. This is being capable of experiencing and seeing all that life has to offer.

Friends By Our Side

It’s not easy to have the courage to hold both the light and the dark. Yet with companions by our side, we find ways to walk through the cold nights of life.

C.S Lewis’ found companionship and a story telling partner in the author of the epic Lord of The Rings series, J.R.R. Tolkien. Both men faced losses as children and also confronted the trauma of serving in the trenches of World War I.

Together they created a fellowship with other writers that gathered around the fireplace at their local pub. Harnessing this energy of friendship they applied their power of imagination, common sense and humor to transform pain through the power of story.

Aren’t we all capable of performing this kind of alchemy? Friends help us see and polish our own story with the power of laughter, tears and shared understanding. By being present in each others’ lives, the polarity of light and dark shifts from being a lonely burden to an experience we share. In that sharing, we know we are not alone.

At the holidays we gather around the fire of friendship; sharing stories of the past year like who died, who was born, successes and failures, who realized their dreams? Friends soften the stories we tell ourselves, alone in our heads. They offer perspective as we humbly face our human limitations. Feeling safe in the presence of those who love us, we come to see the beauty and truth of who we are.

It’s in these gentle, loving moments we can embrace and cultivate Gratitude.

As I write this reflection, one of the friends by my side, Susi Amendola, shared beautiful words on how gratitude is a conscious pathway and not a spontaneous feeling. In her article entitled, “Focus on Feeling More Gratitude Without Avoiding Your Real Feelings” this well-respected yoga teacher says

“Gratitude often arises naturally when we are feeling joy. Yet, gratitude is not the natural state of our minds. It is a conscious pathway we choose. It takes some mind training to awaken our sense of gratitude along with a healthy dose of patience to let gratitude become a habit.”

It is during this season when the nights grow longer, when we most need to be with others who understand the journey through the light and the dark. Walking with others, we stumble upon moments of gratitude. This gift of intentional fellowship is available to us even in a season of darkness. Even in the holidays.

By your side in the light and the dark,

Patrick Davis, MA, PCC