What’s in a Look?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” Is it though? I don’t know about you, but every single Christmas, though blanketed in tradition, has been markedly different. Not better or worse, but different.

I have done as much shopping and preparing as I am going to do this year. A lot less than last year, so Christmas is definitely looking different. I am not apologizing this year for feeling less than joyous; that’s a big change. I’m not taking blame for raining on anyone’s parade either. That’s a biggie, too. So, is it really looking like Christmas? Yep, I think it is. It finally is.

My gifts this year to you, to those whom I love and show up for each day, and to myself (for whom I’m only beginning to show up) are grace and forgiveness. They go hand-in-hand. I’m learning. Grace isn’t about being gracious or delicate. Grace is bold and tough as nails. In fact, this year, I’ve learned that grace often cloaks itself in armor – not an armor that protects me from others, but an armor that protects me from myself. Grace allows me to rise. Grace permits me the space I need mentally and physically to breathe and make it through the day. Grace empowers me. It restores my faith in a humanity that often seems to be disappearing before my very eyes. That’s a new look for Christmas, wouldn’t you say? Attempting to reconcile living in a world where our lens has become focused on self-interest and disrespect rather than tolerance, acceptance, and pursuit of the greater good? Now, that requires grace and invites forgiveness, wouldn’t you say?

The look of Christmas? Learning to forgive is a big part of it. Forgiveness changes the landscape.  Forgiveness for me this year means letting go. It is not for me to judge and absolve anyone else of egregious sins or hurtful behaviors. I’ve committed plenty of both, I’m sure. I’m human after all. What Christmas looks like in terms of forgiveness for me this year is completely different than it was last year, the year before, or even ten or fifty years ago. As we lose those who shaped us and gain others who help us find new ground, forgiveness changes. It moves from perfunctory to profound, in hindsight, of course.

At ten, I feared lumps of coal because of spats with my siblings or falling short in school or fleeting bad feelings about my parents. In my twenties, requests for forgiveness involved momentary lapses in judgment related to indiscretions, promiscuity,  and discovery as well as not measuring up to the community in which I was educated. Thirties? I didn’t forgive myself…ever. I never asked for absolution, cleansing, or forgiveness because I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t think I did anyway. I had a child and a husband and a home. Forgiveness was a luxury. I got exactly what I deserved, good or bad. Forties? Forgivable forties? Fuck that. I was too busy. I didn’t think about grace or forgiveness. Life in auto-pilot when your spouse decides his pursuits are more meaningful and you’ve a child to launch and parents to honor. My 40s gave me nothing and everything. They taught me the most, punished me the most, and rewarded me the most. Irony, indeed.

And here I am, on the cusp of my 58th Christmas (actually 59th) “celebrating” the look of Christmas and I’m talking about and reconciling everything, particularly grace and forgiveness. They go hand-in-hand, I think. This year they do anyway. Next year, who knows?

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” Christmas is the life we celebrate on one day and should fete all year long!

Grace & Forgiveness look differently on everyone!

Proud Antlers

Sylvia is feeling vulnerable, emotional, and overwhelmed this weekend as she considers all that has to be accomplished before Christmas and the new year, much of which has absolutely nothing to do with the holidays. Erma, in her infinite wisdom after years of agonizing to produce the perfect celebration and realizing there is no such thing, shares a newly acquired tidbit that leaves Sylvia feeling more empowered, not like with the force or toughness of a superwoman or wonder woman but perhaps with the mightiness of one of Santa’s reindeer.

Did you know that male reindeer lose their antlers after the fall mating season? Female reindeer keep theirs.

“All of those guiding the sleigh, Syl? A group of badass women with a sense of purpose and direction!”

Sylvia, amused and enchanted, thanks her friend and knows now that “she’s got this” whatever this may be.
🌲🎄❄🎄🌲❄🎄🌲❄🌲🎄❄
Male reindeer lose their antlers in winter and females don’t. Therefore Santa’s sleigh is actually pulled by a team of strong, powerful, underrated women!!!!! YOU GO, GIRLS!! I SEE YOU!!! (@catreynoldsnyc)

www-livescience-com.cdn.ampproject.org

Purpose & Direction

Predictably Unpredictable

As I jump, well, maybe more of a hop into this week and it’s now Tuesday (so that goes to show how I’ve begun this second week in December, definitely not with a jump or a leap now that I think of it because that would require extra energy and enthusiasm which by any given evening sandwiched between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are nearly tapped out), I am looking in the rearview mirror. I do that sometimes, not because I’m going in reverse but more to retrace a few steps and then gain momentum before I put my life in drive, press the gas pedal to the floor, and gun it. Last week was an unusually long week and this week is turning out to be the same -of stops, starts, planning, dismantling, and rebuilding. Admittedly, in so many ways, the ensuing days since Thanksgiving have left me uncomfortably full. So, needless to say, with the feasts of this next fete or two fast approaching, I am feeling the need to purge and cleanse. Right on cue, Mother Nature provides me with the backdrop I need for reflection. (I can count on her most days to set the tone, and today she didn’t disappoint.) The drops falling from the gray sky this morning were pure, white, and frozen; they were almost welcomed as they forced me to slow down, catch my breath, and recalibrate. Mother Nature today reminds me the world’s innovators and inventors obtain a lot of good material and energy from her. (A day like today must have prompted someone to create the washing machine or refrigerator/freezer as we know them- starting off with a whispered, steady fill or a burst of chilled air respectively, followed by a rapid deluge, and then either quickly or calmly drying out or thawing out depending). For the gift of your time and nourishment of my soul in myriad ways, most importantly that you simply show up to read, listen, and share, I’m grateful. Only one thing has been a constant these last two weeks: unpredictability.

Without hesitation, I admit that not having a daily plan or at least an anchor in my schedule often makes me feel like I’m wandering aimlessly. Then, the most refreshing thing happens and I become grounded again – not in a stalled or motionless manner but rather in a calming and re-focused way. I realize that I have an anchor. All of you. My friends. My connections and reconnections. You are where I begin.

So, on this cold December eve, I sit fireside and vow to start again with you to help me navigate life’s unpredictability and accept it as a good thing. Each new day holds possibility – to make a small change, to start anew or to take a step back. To build, to re-build or to sustain. To ignite, to extinguish or to rekindle. Each day is a series of starts and stops and this week has proven to be just that. The important thing is to get up and start again. And with the help and encouragement of old friends, new friends, faraway friends and friends oh-so-near-and-dear, I’ve concluded that starting can be a goal in and of itself. Simply realizing that yesterday had no end and today’s start means carrying on can be satisfying on a soulful level.

Alas, I’m going out on a limb and asserting that the acceptance of and even welcoming of unpredictability can be an achievement. (It’s my tree that I’m swinging from in my own yard- you go out and find yours or I invite you to swing unpredictably with me.) I’m getting up, stirring it up, and firing myself up because the only thing I know for sure is that yesterday is done, and I- no, WE- made it through.

A week of beginnings. Behind us. In front of us. After all, we can’t stop if we’ve never started. Sharing with you my “days in review” and wishing you well, always in all ways.

The only prediction she’s willing to make

Sylvia’s Showing Up

Sylvia: Here we are again, Erma. In the homestretch.

Erma: Ha. You just wait. One day you’ll be looking back just as I am right now and wondering how you survived so many Christmases.

Sylvia: I have no illusions. I’ve watched you, and you’ve always come through with flying colors. Honestly, how have you managed?

Erma: I remember that all of the feelings – the wonder and joy, the sadness and stress- they won’t last. So, in the midst of it all, just show up, Sylvia. Soak it all in.

The most honest thing you can do to demonstrate love is simply to show up! Be present.

The month of December has never been a favorite of Sylvia’s, not since adulthood kicked in anyway. She recalls it also being an incredibly stressful month for her mom, her Erma, who worked her ass off to give her four little gremlins the most amazing Christmases. From decking the halls to writing out hundreds of holiday cards (a task which was the first to fall off the Christmas to-do list as the the years brought with them less time, arthritic and overworked hands, and more grandchildren) to baking the classic spritzes and cherry-walnut coffee cake, Erma did it all, year after year after year.

Looking back, Sylvia realizes her father worked too, of course, to make the holidays happen, but he never participated in any of the holiday preparation which Sylvia now sees as the real magic. If Erma, her mom, was the Christmas magician, then certainly Dad was the sidekick assistant who knew Mom’s routine and didn’t dare mess with it. As Sylvia looks back now, the memory of the side glances her parents exchanged as she and her siblings opened their gifts illuminates as brightly as the lights on the freshly decorated tree on a dark winter’s night. While her father’s look queried, “We bought that too?” Erma’s silent reply made only with her hazy baby blues (glazed over after all because she was the one up all night wrapping) rebuked matter-of-factly, “Yes, that too, dear. Smile, damn it. It’s Christmas. We want them to be happy, don’t we?” At that point, the side glances stopped because Dad knew the battle had been lost. Debt was inevitable. But when all was said and done, he and Mom had “worked together” to create the magic of Christmas. And to that I say, ” Not bad at all, folks, for the couple with the cards proverbially stacked against them – the always smiling, Jewish track star originally from Chelsea and the blonde, incredibly smart, Catholic girl from the project in New Britain.

How did they prevail? They held on tight! They showed up for one another. Don’t get me wrong. They had their ups-and-downs, their sad and angry moments. In the end though, at the close of each day, they were present- for each other and for their family in every way that mattered and made a difference.

So, as Sylvia stays with her father several nights this week until he falls asleep, she thinks about the gifts she has yet to wrap, yet to purchase, yet to give or receive. She’s going materially minimalist this year. Purposely. She has to. It’s time. She needs to declutter mind, body, and spirit. Oh, she’s purchased more than a few small items, enough to make the stockings bulge and be too heavy to hang. Big items though have yet to make their way through the lines at the stores, as Sylvia is just not feeling like suffering through the drama of commercial chaos at its best. Yes, it’s Christmas, but she is scaling back. Intentionally. Did you catch that- those two words? PURPOSE and INTENTION.

Sylvia and Erma intend to hold on tight. They propose you do the same. There’s purpose in an arm around the shoulder, a peck on the cheek, a phone call, a hand held across the table. The purpose- the goal? Presence.

I’m here. For you. For them. This year though I’m here for me. It’s a beginning. It’s something. It’s quite possibly everything.

Expressions of affection, like putting your arm around someone’s shoulder, holding hands, or giving a kiss good night, involve the principle of honesty.
~ John Bytheway

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