There's a reason that the medieval English celebrated these 12 days as some kind of grand reversal, with the Lord of Misrule at the helm (borrowed from the old Roman festival of Saturnalia), and all sorts of indecent liberties taken. It's too much to take in, all this darkness, but at the center of it all is the great gift of the coming of the light in the form of a new baby, hope, a way out, a way home. So we spend too much, drink too much, eat too much, sometimes say too much. We can't contain all the feelings. But if we can stop for a moment, sit still and take it in...that's where the real present is...So, at her kind reminder, I stopped and dropped in, warming my feet with a real live dog in my snug house and letting my heart melt. The presents glittered their infinite potential in shiny unbroken paper shells; the lights blurred gently as I fumbled for my glasses, and the sun snuck up over the fence of the world. I could just reach the Mary Oliver collection of poems, Dog Stories, on the adjacent table, and I read Emma "Little Dog's Rhapsody in the Night" in the silent language of dog lovers who know they know our minds:
"Tell me you love me," he says
"Tell me again."
Could there be a sweeter arrangement?
Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to to tell.My pause turned into my new favorite yoga pose, "fluffy house booties reclining with dog and coffee" pose, in which you stretch out and rhythmically scratch the dog's head with each breath, contemplating the happy circuit of love from dog to human. The endless petitions for love that make more love work so well with dogs, yet somehow, in the arrangements of family and extended family, not so much.
This sacred morning quiet could not be a shield against the mixed set of experiences of the day, the ways that Christmas light in the darkness includes, well, the darkness, but it did provide a little emergency footrest if I could remember to use it. Because Christmas, let's face it, is a mixture of experiences, of great joy and hope, the memory of love, loss, pain, and death. Spend a little time with someone who has lost a truly loved one in the last year and this will become clear, no matter how much tinsel, egg nog, and fa la la la la you throw at them. And by the way, don't throw things. Then there are less extreme, less obviously devouring kinds of loss, disappointment, and annoyance that haunt and deflate us. These are everybody's problems. I have come to the opinion that anyone who says their joy isn't mingled with tears and sorrows is either lying or is 3. The human condition is such that by the time you are invited to the adult's table (heck, by the time you are in big girl pants) some grief creep has started.
For some of us, it's the little irritation that has become, over time, an actual wound. The source of it was the little speck of sand we failed to turn into a pearl. Now it's an icky rash, sensitive to all touch. Sianne Ngai calls them the "ugly feelings," the petty emotions that have to do with our sense of powerlessness and frustration. Sometimes it's our plans gone awry (or even the secret hopes we didn't quite consolidate into a plan) that become a huge, sprawling, sticky mess oozing into other people's lives. But there are corresponding moments of grace that meet these ugly feelings, like when a partner, who knows all the fights by heart and can go as many rounds as you can, finds you on the third verse of your favorite tune "I Feel Like Shit and It's Your Fault." Imagine the evil musical twin Cole Porter's "You're the Top" and you've got it. But instead of joining in (it's a duet, after all), the beloved pauses. Smiles. Listens. Does not react. Said partner even waits just the right number of seconds to let you shift emotional gears before the hug, and stands there in the middle of the mess as its inky tide begins to recede.
If none of that sounds very Christmas-y, let's come back to those presents, the ones glittering in their paper shells. They are visual reminders of what we asked for, what we wished we'd asked for, the unknown hopes others have for us, the things we wish for the ones we love, the way others see us. Sometimes, the presents are not what we (or they) wanted. Sometimes, they are. But they are about to be, in just a few minutes, a beautiful mess. Hopefully, we will revel in the chaos, suspending the urge to grab the garbage bag and clean up long enough to watch faces and experience our own joys and griefs, pretty and ugly feelings, all being swirled together at a higher velocity than usual because our hearts are with the people who matter the most to us.
The eggs of our life don't unscramble. Yet the mind inclines to mastery (or perhaps that's just panic in a fancy dress) so much that we waste time imagining how we could unscramble them, how to unstir our stirred selves, undo the irritations and the bad choices, all the while regarding with contempt the familiarity of our own glorious and mysterious lives. If I had a dollar for every time I've let myself be sucked into the "if only" vortex, I'd have enough money to pay for the 24/7 massage therapists, the house cleaning staff, and the psychiatrist I convince myself I need because I've made such a mad, sticky, messy omelet of things. FaceBook can make it worse by presenting the illusion that other people have it all together or that other people's families are perfect and yours is weird. But it's a great big Lacanian mirror stage ruse in which the baby in the mirror is always cooler, more together, and more capable than we are. Other people's omelets look shiny and perfect from a distance.
Let's face it, my fellow omelet-makers, we all have egg on our faces, even if some remember to wipe it off in public. And all these omelets are a good thing, because people get hungry. My omelet of a life, made of leftovers, time, and love, it's pretty damn tasty. Christmas didn't end yesterday; it just got started. If my feet are cold, I can warm them with a dog. My emergency footrest will be there if I just remember to meditate, even if I'm doing it, in the words of Anne Lamott, like a meth-head squirrel. I'm going to screw some things up, I'll say too much, and I'll break a few eggs. But there is still a little coffee in the pot, and I'm taking the day off. Merry first day of Christmas, to all.