Saturday, November 27, 2010

Of Trees and Idleness

"Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good."  - Soren Kierkegaard

It seems this blog increasingly is a defense of idleness, not that idleness needs for me to defend it. At any rate, this time of the year, in particular -- the holidays, the holy days, the black days, the dark days, the feast days, the days of light and delight -- it seems that there is a force behind us with a whip that demands busy, over-commitment. Already, with Thanksgiving behind us now, we might be in full gear to drive our lives to collapse. This is something that I am increasingly rejecting, year-by-year, because it gets in the way of my observing nature's show, the changes in my children or really being able to listen to the silent night.

It used to be that I loved the holidays because they allowed me to really be a show-off. I was one of those people who gets the cards out, who decorates the house to the nines, who throws parties, wraps every present with fancy bows, does secret Santa, decorates cookies, makes new ornaments every year, and fills advent calendars with little gifts every day and a scavenger hunt on Christmas Eve, goes to every Christmas concert, ballet and school fundraiser. I was higher than a kite on the sparkle. The holidays were a full-time job from November 1st through New Years, and then I was sick for the month of January. I determined about 15 years ago that part of the problem was that I was allergic to the mold that grows on cut Christmas trees and so I invested in a beautiful fake Douglas Fir that fooled even old timers in Oregon. It lasted for 12 years before losing enough of it's fancy needles that it needed to be replaced. But, this fake tree only allowed me to start the holiday madness sooner, and then I was still sick for the month of January due to pure exhaustion.

My children remember "that me" well enough that they're a little stung that I threw away the advent calendar last year and replaced it with cards that could be opened to was not the same. So I found out what mattered to them. They wonder where are the parties for organized caroling? There must be a free Handel's Messiah Sing-Along that we can go to this year. The last four years have been the great reduction, and enough so that I wonder at my own former insanity. I no longer send many Christmas cards - maybe only a dozen -- if I can get to them. I don't even send personalized emails - though that was a transitional mode that loosened me from the tradition. I apologize and post a big "happy..." on the day and that is good enough. 

The residual guilt pile is melting as the years go by. It is not at all that I'm a Scrooge or a Grinch. I am not a Bah-Humbug. I love this time of year still, and I praise every one's well-being. I still love all of my friends and family, too. It's just that I love myself a little better than I used to love myself. I see that love doesn't require me to always be "The Giving Tree".

Initially, the let go began because I was, frankly, broke, and I'm still too broke to do all that I used to try to do even if I spread it out the entire year. I simply don't have much extra to give still. I try to make up for lack of cash with giving my time, either by making gifts or spending time with others, but have discovered that there actually isn't enough extra time to make up for the lack of wrapped gifts no matter the strategy. So, I have come to accept that doing my best is good enough, and that doing my best means not letting go of my personal strivings even through the holidays. This allows me to occasionally experience honest good cheer and peace on earth.

This year I will spend time reading to my kids, even though my daughter will argue that she's too old to be read to, and then I'll ask them to read to me. We'll feed the wintering Canadian geese at our little lake. We'll play board games and cards by candlelight, and share memories of those insane times and laugh. We'll have donuts for Hanukah, and gingerbread for Christmas. There will be some traditions that will come back -- the advent calendar of felt I was so happy to find is already hanging waiting to be filled with little things that surprise them. We'll cook a special meal together, and bake cookies when we have a chance. School projects will be priorities, and congratulations for a job well done may include a special treat. Christmas morning will be de-emphasized for gifts and emphasized for time with family to relax and be together with nothing looming over our heads that has to be done. And, I will continue to write first, and celebrate after. 

I look to the trees, those who hibernate, naked in the cold winds, those who are evergreen, distant palms waving over warm seas, and even those imitations made of paper and plastic and electric lights, and see their beauty is absolute stillness. I think of the thousands of Madonna's curled around their babies in paintings and frescoes and see their peace in focused attention. I remember the oil lamps of my ancestors lighting their windows as a sign of faith that goodness always underlies experience. All of these symbols are quiet and gentle, and I choose to emulate them and turn my back against the raging winds around me. Bundled up, I look up to the stars each night, earlier and earlier, and wish for love to be my guide.

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