As the weather turns cold and leaves begin to fall, another round of Holidays begin. And, with this arrives my annual ranting of the crazed spirit that befalls upon us. It is the time of year I desperately crave to live in another culture—one where they are not inundated with the religious panic and gun-point reparations that the U.S. claims as, “The Season of Giving.” Greedy Americans consume most savagely—a materialistic school of piranhas-- eating, drinking, partying, shopping, and…yes, giving.
Now, I’m Jewish, so I may be a tad bitter. And, let’s be honest; giving, for a Jew, is not part of our genetic make-up. Oh sure, we give. But, we give in a mechanical, bookkeeping sort of way. Giving is a prudent and logical exchange offered within an obligatory barter system, as opposed to our souls’ joyous release: John gave me a check for 50.00 on my birthday, so I better give him 50.00, too.
Our Crazybusy Culture is now heightened to a crescendo-like peak, as people cram cooking, baking, party-making, party-going, community-serving, fund-raising, church-attending, and merriment-expecting into their already gridlocked schedules. Oddly, in a time when the landscape begins to hibernate—drawing its energy into its core and preparing for winter’s calm slumber— human inhabitants choose to trample over this natural cycle with mall-thronging, hymnal-howling, and cocktail-sloshing, extroverted frenzy.
If there were a cultural deity one could sue for punitive damages, I surely would. All I want is to experience the fall months until mid-January in peace and quiet. Instead, it’s louder and more cacophonic than the rest of the year, combined.
So, what’s a bitter Grinch to do? This year, a friend who is struggling through his second year of cancer helps to put things into perspective. He states,
I cannot help but revisit the centrality of connection. In this disease process I’ve experienced a visceral acknowledgement of how much connection to family and friends means. For most of my life I have defined myself, at least in part, by what I did: husband, parent, teach, build furniture, cross country ski, mountain bike, etc. Many of these definitions are foreign to me now through the action of Leukemia, and so I have been left to reconstruct the daily selfhood construction and maintenance. Foremost has been connecting to family and friends.
Being home has allowed me to welcome more visitors on a more regular basis than in hospital. So I have been lucky enough to be in a position to ‘manage’ folks who want to visit—in part as my energy still is marginal and in part to parse out visits like one who is able to savor sweets… unlike myself who pretty much always finished them off inordinately quickly. Being so blessed to savor a visit a day enriches each encounter so that I appreciate each person and the disparate, lovely presence they bring. Really a skill and luxury I had never before apprehended.
When I visited Australia, I remember people greeting each other with "How you goin?" instead of "How are you doing?" I liked that, but hadn't reflected upon why. My friend’s message helped to clarify. It emphasizes Being vs. Doing-- how one chooses to be, in whatever situation they are placed. When life is boiled down to its essence, what is left?
In Hospice Volunteer training, we identified the ten most important "things" in our lives. They could be material things-- house, car, etc. - or they could be people, or they could be qualities- a sense of humor, kindness, gratitude, etc.
We wrote each thing on a small scrap of paper. Then, we were told that we had a terminal illness and one year to live. We were instructed to say goodbye to all of our things. So, safe in our health and in the company of the group, we sat on the couches and comfy chairs, and one by one, said goodbye to each thing. And each time, we crumbled the paper and tossed it on the floor in front of us.
We sat there in silence. Many people cried and shook, privately. After a few minutes, the facilitator said, "Now, imagine that you are healed, and all is well. One by one, pick up each paper, uncrumble it, and welcome that thing back into your lives."
The immense relief and gratitude that emerged from a simple ten-minute activity was palpable. It was also enlightening, as I realized how the list immediately transformed. The only things that mattered- the only things that I knew I wanted at the end of my life-- were my friends and family—there with me, in the room. The only things I needed were my qualities-- a sense of humor, honesty, and introspection. The career, retirement home, favorite wooden bowls (these actually made the top ten, eek!), the Whatever- vanished.
Dear ones. As you begin to hurl yourself into this Holiday Season, forgo the material madness. Spend time with your friends and family, not money on them. The most important gift you can give is the gift of yourself. Just be with the people you love.