Last Christmas season I was a mess. Divorce proceedings were in full swing. My stomach was in knots as tensions rose and lawyers battled back and forth. It was sickening and I just wanted the holidays to go away. My son, far away in college, was not coming home for the first time in his life. My future was uncertain, I cried constantly, and all around me were happy people, decorating, celebrating, and singing.
Ugh. I just wanted to be placed in a coma and awakened after it was all over.
This year? Ah, I am making up for lost time. The outside of the house is ablaze with lights, my tree is lit up most of the day, and I am decorating anything that stands still for more than three seconds. Don't believe it me?
Here's my cat Zelda.
I wake up singing Christmas carols and I go to bed wearing my Santa socks. Both of my sons will be home this year and a Certain Very Nice Man will be joining us on Christmas morning for the opening of presents.
In short, I am one happy woman. Bring it on, St. Nick. Bring it on! I am SO ready!
I was out for my morning walk the other day, humming along to the Christmas carol playlist on my I-Pod, when across the street I saw an older woman I recognized. She had been our neighbor years earlier when we had lived at a different address. Six months ago, I had seen her husband’s obituary in the newspaper. She was walking slowly and seemed to be absorbed in thought.
I thought about calling out to her, but selfish little voices inside of me just urged me to keep walking. Talking to her might slow me down. It would be easy to walk on by. It had been over twenty years since I had spoken to her. She wouldn’t remember me. What good would it do for me to stop and talk to her? Maybe she wanted to be alone with her thoughts. If I said anything about her husband, it would be awkward and might make her even more sad.
I listened that that insecure chattering for a few seconds and then a knowing arose inside of me and I called out her name and crossed over to her.
I had to tell her who I was and how I remembered her. It was clear she was a bit confused and I really don’t think she recalled us being her neighbors. I told her I had seen her husband’s obituary and how sorry I was to hear of it. He had always taken in our trashcans after they were empty. It was such a simple, but kind act and I told her that I passed that kindness on to my neighbors now because of his example.
Her eyes welled up with tears. She talked about his final days, how much she had loved him, and how she had taken care of him up until the end. It was clear she needed to talk. Finally, she said, “And here it is, December already,” her eyes drifting across the street to some decorations.
Though our situations were different, I recognized what was the same. I nodded, a lump in my throat, and said softly, “This will be a different kind of Christmas for you, won’t it?” She seemed almost relieved to hear me say those words.
She looked right into my eyes, nodded a tired nod and said, “Yes, it will be.”
We talked a bit about how she would make it through the holidays and how much she would miss him, how she still kept his chair where it always had been and how empty it would be on Christmas morning.
Finally, I told her goodbye, gave her a hug and said I’d be looking for her on my future walks.
I walked away, my eyes filled with tears, my heart filled with a mixture of emotions.
In talking to my old neighbor, I remembered last year and how lonely I felt, even when surrounded my loving friends and family. I am grateful that my life is no longer like that. I am grateful that now I feel true happiness and joy in this season.
This may sound strange, but I am also grateful beyond belief that I remember so vividly the pain I felt last year.
It has taken me a long time realize this, and even longer to appreciate it, but along with hideous, gut-wrenching, soul-sucking events there come certain gifts, and one of those, for me, is the gift of empathy.
I am embarrassed to say that I almost passed right by my old neighbor. It makes me wonder how often we hesitate, listening to those small voices of our delicate egos warning us of the risk of rejection or awkwardness when instead we should instinctually reach out to others?
We all have gifts that we can give to one another. Whether we do so or not is up to us.
As for me, this new reservoir of understanding and compassion has been hard-won. If I don’t use it to help others, then what’s it all been for?
I never thought I would be grateful for anything having to do with the divorce, but I am finding that even amid the rubble of loss and the pain, some jewels have emerged that enrich my life.
Just like most jewels, their real value and beauty come out when they are shared with others.