I never really know what to say to people when they ask what I’m doing for the holidays. I want to say – “I stopped celebrating holidays years ago when I realized they’d only bring pain.” Too many years I was hurt. This year too many are hurting.
Everywhere I look is a nightmare to me in these dark months that others call a season of light. The ornaments, the trees and homes covered in lights. Santa, presents, candles, songs, snow and the cold. The menorah, the parties, the food. No part of it brings me joy. Rather they are associated with memories that are like daggers stabbing me again and again, breaking my mind into more pieces. I can’t afford to give presents to anyone and cards seem inauthentic. The happiness of children makes me sad because I know one day that innocence will be gone. And even sadder still, many kids in the world who won’t get anything this year but fear. Then I think of how people will give to the needy and then ignore and judge them the rest of the year.
What am I supposed to say when people ask me what I want? I want a new mind and a body that works. I want to be able to pay my own bills and give to others. I want kids in Aleppo not to be bombed and kids and people around the world to have access to insulin. I want people to care more about the people outside their families year round. I want everyone to have safe, warm homes with enough food and clothing and medicine. I want more kindness and compassion.
None of those things fit in Santa’s sleigh though.
I ask others their plans because I want to seem nice. I want them to have a chance to share what makes them happy (or annoyed). But I basically lie in return. I just say I don’t have plans really, just a “cozy, quiet night in” because no one wants to hear the truth.
I don’t want to selfishly impose my negativity. But as they talk I think of how the garland could go to someone’s rent who is living on the street and the electricity used for the holiday lights could go to someone’s heating bill who can barely afford food and medicine. I see a basket full of toys meant for one child when many children get none. In fact, I see the trees and lights and presents I grew up with as a child and feel guilty that I was so spoiled.
It’s not that I don’t want people to have decorations and gifts and all the things that make them happy, make their lives brighter. I want people to be able to express their joy, to see the artistry of lights (within reason and never including those blow-up lawn ornaments which are never okay in my opinion). I want people to have extra special gifts to wake up to and the delight the giver feels in selecting those gifts, wrapping and presenting them. I don’t want to be a Grinch or a Scrooge, but I also can’t in good conscious ignore the darker side of this season – how it hurts, how it still leaves many without.
This year, I’m thankful to not be living in my car or spending time in a hospital or psych ward. However, those memories are seared within me – the things I saw and experienced this time last year are ones I’m not sure I’ll be able to express for a very long time – along side the ones that existed from the years before. I am thankful to have enough food and clothing and medicine. I have a home that someone helps subsidize for me (I’m still on waiting lists for low income housing applications I submitted over a year ago, so without this help I’d still be homeless), when last year I was begging for a home for the holidays. I have my cats and my car. I have a computer and internet and my phone to connect with friends and advocate. I have warm bedding and my books. I have kind and generous people in my life who choose to be there for me through even the very worst, who are forgiving and patient with me, willing to understand my illnesses and unwilling to let me push them away.
I have so much more than most and feel guilty and undeserving. I feel like I’m taking more than I could ever give back and a burden – feelings only amplified by the past – plaguing my mind when I’m awake and asleep. No one wants to hear that this time of year though. No one wants to hear that there are kids starving to death in Yemen right now, people are dying from lack of access to insulin, or that I can barely get out of bed some days.
So instead I smile and feign excitement while I keep my memories and my thoughts to myself. Instead, I wish them and I wish you: