Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

December 27, 2011

Of Darkness and Lights in the Season of Holidays

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 3:19 am
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The holiday music began playing in grocery stores before we even finished the Thanksgiving left-overs.   Whatever you celebrate, the spirit of the winter holidays is pretty ubiquitous, winding its way into casual greetings of happiness and cheer.  TV commercials depict families swept up in the glow of togetherness and giving.  What must it feel like to be swimming against this tide of relentless good cheer?  How painful, lonely, and even callous must this sweetness and light world feel for those who are dealing, in these jolly days,  with life’s darkness?

A few weeks ago my sister asked me to write about this.  Her husband’s sister was suffering from terminal brain cancer, and his father was failing.  We have since lost them both, and the strength of family and support of friends has been, I hope, helpful to the mourners.  I can’t help feeling, however, with each bouncy tune offered in elevators, and every jingled bell or ornamented window, how hard it must be to smile at the holiday greetings of strangers while nursing your own broken heart.   And if it is hard for grown-ups, how are children with their own illness or with ailing parents or loved ones handling the jarring disconnect between the winter wonderland of celebrations and their personal hurt and fear?

It took me several weeks to respond to my sister’s prompt to address this issue, partly out of my own sadness at the incredible loss my brother-in-law, and as a family, we all to a smaller degree, experienced.  Partly, I prefer to offer useful answers, and I had been feeling at a loss – uncertain what advice for parents or educators could bridge the vast divide between the expected gifts of the season and the realities for some of us.  A darkened house across the street, and lighting our Chanukah candles as empty nesters for the first year helped give me some perspective.

Our block, like so many in America, is a-light from late November through the new year.  Various arrays of colored lights, blown up displays and red bows welcome me home each evening.  I noticed that I was paying them scant attention, and focusing instead on a house that was dark, its decorations affixed, but never plugged in.  I wondered if everyone was okay, or away on vacation, and my husband and I began a nightly watch, relieved when signs of life returned.

At the same time, we configured our living room to allow our Chanukah menorahs to face the street, broadcasting our presence and the small flames we kindle that signal victories and beliefs too large for words.  We lit our candles and reminisced about the days when our children, in their oh so adorable matching osh kosh b’gosh pj’s would rip open our small nightly gifts of mittens, books and wished for games.  And we reflected, quite joyfully, on how much change a year can bring, and the two amazing women who have joined our family, lighting up our son’s lives in unimaginable ways, and on our youngest son who shines too, growing and learning as he should be at this time in his life.

How did this give me perspective?  I guess just seeing the darkness where we usually focus on the light helped me to re-consider the holiday approach we usually generally extend to everyone regardless of their situation.  I don’t think we need to stop offering cheerful greetings, and bah humbug attitudes aren’t typically helpful.  Expressing a genuine connection and care for the people in my life, however, seems more likely to offer warmth and light than rehearsed and hackneyed holiday platitudes.  For children and adults, I am trying to listen to their holiday music, before offering what might seem a discordant tone.

And the candles . . . I am a sucker for candles!  They are at once brilliant and transient, simple and symbolic, casting both light and shadow.   As my sister told me about my amazing 9 year old nephew dealing with the loss of a grandfather and the untimely loss of an aunt, within hours of each other, I realized how much children are like candles.  They shine bright at every phase of their development, yet each phase melts so quickly away.  They are simply flesh and blood, and yet to their families they are our dreams and our future.  And while at times, the challenge of parenting and teaching has us thinking that children are a chore, they are the light in our lives, the reason we push ourselves to be better people.  The candles, and how much they are like the miracle of children, helped me see that even and perhaps especially, offering a glimmer, a flicker, a small light to those feeling darkened, is a great gift.

We cannot stop the calendar and make the holidays go away, anymore than we can make a world without loss, or pain, or sadness.  A passionate focus on glitter and presents and shopping and cheer misses the mark, for those in pain and perhaps for us all.  For ourselves, and for our children, weaving the darkened houses, the garlands of lights, the shimmering candles and the miracles and memories of yesterday into a season of care and connection makes this time of year a true celebration of our humanity and our faith.


1 Comment »

  1. Beautifully written and a true lesson.

    Comment by Jen — December 27, 2011 @ 2:55 pm |Reply

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