Christmas time is the most wonderful time of the year. With that sort of expectation, it can be a tough time for some. Sort of like going to Disneyland, "The happiest place on Earth." It is a lot to live up to, and if you end up not having a good time, it is your fault, right?
Christmastime can be this contrast. Amazing joy of time with friends and family, and darker moments of reflection as the end of another year draws close. Christmas rarely lives up to the magic it had as a child, but there are definitely years that mean more than others. Especially with the cold and darker days of winter, it can be easy to slip into a funk and fall prey to believing that there is more darkness than light as you compare what is, with what was, or with what "should" be.
I decided at (almost) the last minute to send out Christmas cards. As I mentioned elsewhere, it seemed sort of a silly thing to do as a single guy. No family photos or letters about what the kids are up to this year, but a reader called me out on it and sent one out a few years ago. After looking over so many pictures when I was deciding on what to put on the walls, I started to see that I had some great adventures this past year. I figured I'd send out five or ten, but the list grew as I thought of all the people I want to stay in touch with in the new year. I suppose the Christmas card is a way of saying that you are in my thoughts, and I want to do better at staying in touch in the new year.
Christmas Day was a blessed day of family. My brother and I gathered at my parents house in the morning, and then met up with a crowd of about 30 of extended family in the evening. When I have told people over the years how a large group of us still gather for holidays and a week together in the summer, and actually enjoy the time together, it is clear that it is a rare thing. I feel very lucky indeed. There is a funny transition as you get older. As families grow and life gets more complicated, you see each other less. At the same time, the age differences mean less, and you have more common ground having years in your own tank. It is a double blessing to have family as friends.
On the other side, friends as family, a group of us gathered together once again for the 42nd annual Dunsire Sleepover Party. Actually, each year is labeled the "42nd annual", and though it hasn't been forty-two just yet, it has probably been a good fifteen or twenty years of annual gatherings. We get together to celebrate the season, and to celebrate our continuing friendship, built off a chance choice to work at the same restaurant so many years ago. There are more kids these days, some who are now adults, and the party is a little less crazy, but it still goes into the wee hours of the morning, and many of us pull up some floor and stay the night. With lives again more complicated, this is the anchor that gets us together for an evening of catching up, and reliving old stories.
After all this great activity in the span of a few days, there is a letdown afterward. The hangover is both figurative and literal,.The heavy drink, volumes of food, and little sleep catches up with you and leaves you feeling a bit miserable. The emotional hangover of the quiet after the chaos hits you as well, and it is perfectly apt to walk into the next week ready to make changes in the new year.
These days, the holiday hangover seems to come earlier and more often. I don't think it is a secret anymore that depression is a guest that never quite leaves my life. She'll hide in a corner now and then, but I will come upon her and she will take my hand and walk with me for a spell. The holiday season makes me think of years and people that have passed by, and even with all the wonderful friends and family, Christmas is missing that one close connection that makes it personal and real.
I took a few days extra days off in December, using up some comp time built up from the long hours of tax season. I was able to go out on a random Monday run outside after being relegated to the treadmill in the days of working dark to dark. It was cool but not freezing, and a dense fog clouded my glasses, so it was soon easier to see without them. A few bike commuters zipped by, and an occasional runner passed in the opposite direction, but the trail was largely mine.
I most often run and drive listening to podcasts. I enjoy them a great deal, but I get to the point of letting music slip out of my life. When I break the cycle and shut off the chatter in favor of music, it feels like a beam of light to my soul. I had dialed up my marathon playlist on the drive home the night before, and took it along as company on my run.
A song came on the playlist, "Swim" by Jack's Mannequin. I actually found this song when the artist performed on the Daily Show of all places. The singer/songwriter described how the song came out of his battle with cancer. The song grabbed me then, and I think the live version was even better than the studio version I found later.
Songs and poems are usually left to our own interpretation, and we tend to tailor them to our own lives. Even though I knew the story behind this song, I think it speaks to other things as well. I find that the lyrics and the spirit of the song lends itself to any sort of struggle, and as I ran that morning, it spoke to me about the battle against depression.
Christmastime is still one of the most wonderful times of the year. It is a time to celebrate with the ones you love, family, friends and everything in between. It doesn't always live up to the hype, but there is still a little magic each year. It is warmth in a cold time of year, a realization that there is much more light than dark, and a reminder of how truly blessed I am.
Even though I stumble now and then, I find the horizon, and realize it's not as far as I think.