The Post Christmas Support Group – Conclusion

December 25, 2011

Continued from December 11th & 18th.  Four characters are meeting in a church basement to lend each other emotional support.  But the stresses of the holidays seem to be a little too much for them.  Will anyone be able to remind them of the true spirit of Christmas?

Just then we heard the door open and someone running down the stairs.  A young, round-faced boy with glasses and wearing snowpants and a stocking cap bounded into the hall.  “Where’s the bathroom?” he asked.

I pointed to the back corner, but recommended he leave the bb-gun he was carrying by the door.  He clutched the gun for a moment, but apparently decided we were trustworthy, because he left it propped by the door and went running toward the bathroom.

The four in the circle were now all staring at me, as if expecting me to share my own story about the holidays.  I thought for a minute, hesitating to say anything.  I wanted to offer help, but I’m not a minister and have only been on the receiving end of professional help from a therapist.  But, I felt I had to say something, so I did my best to come up with what I thought would be some good perspective.

“I hear all of your concerns, and I won’t deny that its hard getting through the holidays, and sometimes even more difficult to see them come to an end, but surely you wouldn’t rewrite your Christmas stories if you could.  Haven’t you all learned lessons more valuable than anything that could have come from a store?” I asked.

“Happy endings only last for so long,” said the Grinch.  “Life keeps going after the Who’s sing their song.”

“Yes, life keeps going, and the bills and the challenges keep piling up,” said George.

“And people will keep talking behind your back, even if you’ve tried to prove you’re worthiness to them face to face,” said Scrooge.

“And every year, there are more children who stop believing in Santa, and more parents who forget that home and family are more important than anything for sale at Macy’s or any other store,” said Kris.

“So, what you’re saying is that you’re not sure its all worth it, if after all the songs are sung and presents are opened, all we’re left with is the blues?” I asked.  “That you wish that there hadn’t been that high of Christmas if it means the low that comes after?”

“Are you crazy?” said the snow-suited boy, coming back from the kitchen.  “Of course it’s worth it.”

We all looked at him in surprise.  We hadn’t expected him to be listening to our conversation, and were even more amazed that he felt he needed to set us straight.  But, clearly Christmas was something he felt strongly about.  “Don’t any of you remember what Christmas was like that morning you unwrapped the greatest gift of all time.”

“Presents don’t last, those moments soon become the past,” countered the Grinch.

“And even the Greatest Gift can have unintended consequences,” said George.

“Well, duh,” said the boy.  “Look, it hurt like anything when I almost shot my eye out – it hurt my eye and it hurt my pride.  But I still think this Red-Ryder BB gun is the best present I’ve ever received.  You know why?”

We all shook our heads, and he rolled his eyes at us, going on.  “Look, it didn’t take too long for me to figure out who gave me this gun.  It wasn’t Santa,” Kris nodded.  “It wasn’t magic.  It was my dad.”  George seemed particularly interested as Ralphie went on.

“All December long I was so afraid that I wouldn’t get what I really wanted, and I thought nobody cared.  But, the truth is, we all have someone in our lives that wants us to have the best Christmas ever.  My dad and mom worked really hard so I could have what I really wanted.  And, all over the world, people are doing the same thing for the ones they love.  You think everyone drives all over, cutting down trees and spending hours in the cold stringing up lights because they want Santa Claus to deliver something just for them?  They’re all just trying to make people happy.”

It made sense.  That was the Christmas magic after all, the goodwill that drives people to great lengths to make their loved ones happy.  And, even if many people today would be better off if we spent more time and less money, hearts are still in the right place with all that extra effort. “But, when Christmas is over, why do we all stop trying to make people happy?” I asked.

“It gets to be too much, doing all that extra work to make a nice meal, have special decorations, and be extra cheerful,” said George.  “People aren’t up for that effort all the year round.”

“It wouldn’t be special if it was all the time,” replied Ralphie.

“So,” said Scrooge, “What you’re saying is just because we can’t keep up the Christmas pace all year round, it doesn’t mean we’ve failed.  We have to work to make the holidays special, and we have to accept there is something of a let down when its over.”

“It doesn’t have to be a let down,” said Kris. “If you remember that you were trying to make a special time, not change your everyday.  And, there are some parts of Christmas that CAN last all the year round, as long as you’re willing to put in that little extra effort that comes naturally in December.”

“Like remembering to give someone a smile, even if they don’t return it for awhile,” said the Grinch.  “We toss the unwrapped paper and take down the lights, we get back to the grind and still have our fights.  But Christmas will surely come in another year, then we’ll work hard again to spread our cheer.”

“It’s the cheer that’s priceless,” said George, “And for that matter, free.  I guess I spend so much time thinking about money, that I forget what really counts.  You’d have thought I’d have that lesson down pat.”

“That’s why Christmas comes once a year,” said Kris.  “We all need reminders.  And, even if most of the world doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, every day, we all have at least one person who believes in us.”

It was then I realized how fortunate I was to have heard these characters stories, both the happy endings I had heard before then, and the sequels they had just shared with me. Whether you call it Christmas, or solstice, or something else, we all need some light to get us through the darkest time of the year.  And, Ralphie was right, it is special because we give a little bit more than most of the time.

The true meaning of Christmas is hard to remember, and even more difficult to honor year round.  I’m betting a lot of you are pretty tired right now.  All that effort you put into your holiday, whether it was traveling to see family, or preparing your own home for hosting a party, or even the shopping, can wear a person down.  Then it all comes to a screeching halt, the lights come down, no one is out ringing a bell to remind you of the less fortunate, people don’t greet each other with reminders to be Merry.  All that work is behind us for another year.

But that’s just it, we know its work at Christmas.  Do we chose not to put in the effort to be festive or even to give goodwill toward men the rest of the year?  Is that why marketers are allowed to stretch the Christmas season, so now it begins in September?  Do we hope that somehow, the cheer will come with the commercialism?

Is it possible to keep the spirit of Christmas every day of the year, as Scrooge was said to have done?  I don’t know.  I do think that Dickens may have exaggerated a little bit, because the Ebeneezer I met yesterday seemed to have had some bad days now and then.  But I do know that it would take work to do so, just like it takes work to make the most of the holidays.  In the end, it is not just better to give than receive, but it is impossible to live without giving of yourself.  Otherwise, we’re just taking up room like books on a shelf.

Maybe it’s impossible, but as Gailey said “Faith is believing in things…when common sense tells you not to.”


The Post-Christmas Support Group – Part Two

December 18, 2011

Last week we heard from a strange green character and a man with the odd name of Scrooge of how they were dealing with the expectations of the Christmas Season.  There are more at this gathering who have their own stories…

“You should meet my lawyer, good man,” said the more kindly faced gray-haired man sitting next to Scrooge.

“Oh, I know you believe Gailey can perform miracles, Kris, but I think it would take more than that to wipe greed from men’s hearts,” replied Scrooge.

“Well, I guess I can’t argue with you there,” replied Kris.  “I remember it was decades ago I was saying to him, I’ve been getting more worried about Christmas. Seems we’re all so busy trying to beat the other fellow…in making things go faster, look shinier, and cost less…that Christmas and I are sort of getting lost in the shuffle.

Now it’s not just a Santa here or there that gets dragged into court.  The whole holiday is on trial it seems.  Stores that count on Chirstmas-spending to survive tell their employees not to even use the word.  People argue about whether it’s politically correct to wish someone you don’t know a ‘Merry Christmas.’”

It seemed the man was getting quite emotional as he went on, and perhaps the Grinch had seen him fly off on this topic before, because he interrupted,
“The world out there now has grown more diverse,” he said.
“And that at times can be a blessing and a curse.
There are people of all faiths, and skins of many colors
Some see Christmas as a symbol of how their faith isn’t as accepted as others
When so many have been hurt by the pressure to conform,
You can’t blame them for not wanting just one faith treated as the norm.

“Hmph,” Kris acknowledged the Grinch’s comments, but continued in the same vein as before. “I make no apologies that I was born and raised a Christian, and I believe the true spirit of Christmas is found in the gospels.  But, just like every person has love inside of themselves, everyone has Christmas inside of them, whether they choose to call it Christmas or something else.”

He continued, “I do know a thing or two about not fitting in.  I’ve been fortunate to have some very kind friends.” Kris continued.  “They welcome me even though they think I’m different.  I try to overlook the fact that they are concerned about my difference, and focus on the fact that they care about me.  But, it does get tiring being treated like you may be dangerous or are some kind of liar when it’s really everyone else that is telling themselves a lie.”

“I know what you mean,” said the Grinch. “Though I’ll add its not easy being green.”

“Well, I’m one man who knows how fortunate I am.” said the final man, who had a quite distinctive speaking style.  His story was particularly heart-warming.

“Everyone wants friends who they can count on in a really tough time,” George began, “Well, I’ve not only got great friends, but I know I can count on them, because I’ve been through that tough time.

“I know you’re all tired of hearing about this, but I can’t stop thinking about that Christmas Eve that I almost lost my business.”  He looked down at his empty hands as if he expected something to be there and for a moment reached out into the air as if to grab at something that had been taken from him.

“There’s that loose end of the money that my uncle lost.  I still can’t understand how it could have just disappeared without someone turning it in.  I have to admit, I’ve caught myself watching my friends and neighbors, waiting for one of them to show that they’ve got a little more spending money.  But the only person in town that seems to have any money is that Potter.  And well, I suppose I can’t feel too bad about that, since he’s because he’s been dying in the hospital for years now.  And that means he’s probably about as broke as the rest of us.”  George looked up from his hands, and smiled at the other man of business in the circle.  “That is, unless you decide to help him out, Ebeneezer.”

The others all laughed lightly, and Scrooge replied wisely, “You’re lucky to have that sense of humor, Bailey.  It’s probably part of why you have so many great friends.  And haven’t you told us that ‘no man is poor who has friends.’”

“True,” replied George. “I’ve learned that money isn’t the most important thing in the world, but life does go on and life takes money whether we like it or not.  I’ve got my life and my family, which are worth more than anything, but I’ve also got a lot of debt to those friends that I don’t know how I’m ever going to repay.  I worry about saddling my children with a great responsibility, and I know how that feels, having inherited my father’s business against my will.  I don’t want my son to be stuck behind a desk that’s stained with the sweat and tears of his father and grandfather.”

George concluded, “I know I’ve had a wonderful life so far, and the past does sustain me at times.  But the truth is, you can’t always keep looking back, and as hard as it is to see the role you’ve played in the past, it’s a heck of a lot harder to see how you’ll be able to keep making a difference in the future.  I’m getting tired.  Its hard to keep it going.”

Just then we heard the door open and someone running down the stairs.  A young, round-faced boy with glasses and wearing snowpants and a stocking cap bounded into the hall.  “Where’s the bathroom?” he asked.

To Be Continued… Can anyone get these characters out of the post-holiday funk?


A Holiday Story: The Post-Christmas Support Group – Part One

December 11, 2011

The busyness of the season has gotten the better of me.  Though I’ve got a lot of thoughts percolating in my mind, I don’t think I’ll have the time to corral them into the part of that organ that can actually create sense from them. So, for the next few weeks I’m going to be recycling a piece I wrote as a sermon a few years ago about the feeling that comes after the holidays.

Hope you enjoy.

PART ONE: A Most Strange Gathering

Whether you are the type of person who takes down your tree and decorations the second Christmas Day is over, or you are holding out until New Years, or perhaps even stretching out your decked halls until January 6th, the day of the Epiphany in the Christian tradition, many of us experience a feeling of loss when the holly and tinsel come down.  We are now faced with months more of winter with no carols to buoy our hearts with song, or special feasts to feed our souls with the companionship of friends and family.  At least, not without the same celebratory tone of Christmas.

When I take down my tree and stockings, I’m always struck by how the house seems not only bigger, but emptier.  Not only that, but with all the build up, it’s easy to feel disappointed if your Christmas didn’t bring peace on earth or Rockwell or Capra-esque healing of family.  It’s no wonder that many people experience a seasonal depression in the dark months of January and February.  Even Mary is reported to have had a pierced soul following the miraculous and joyous birth of Jesus.  What hope is there for the rest of us?

If you are feeling any of this disappointment and malaise, I wanted you to know you are not alone.  In fact, last year I heard some first-hand accounts of how difficult it is to emotionally recover from even the happiest holiday experiences.  I had stopped by my church to check on the heat, and four amazing characters were there in our basement gathered around coffee-hour table.  I’m not sure who called this impromptu support group, but no one seemed to be in charge or surprised to see the others, though they were a most unusual group.

Before I knew what was happening, the tallest and most unusual one of all had grabbed me by the arm and made me sit down next to him.  He then said hello and his name, and the others all greeted him in unison.  This was my first clue that it was a support group of some kind, which became even more clear when he continued with his story.

My doctor told me I should come here, and everyone takes his advice,
So my dog Max and I got in our sleigh, we didn’t think twice.
Though this Christmas was more joyful than any I’ve known,
I can’t help but feelings there’s something I’ve blown.
While I was gathered hand in hand with them on Christmas ‘morn
The Who’s were all welcoming and not the least was I torn.
I felt so happy to sit at their table and carve the Christmas beast,
The years I’d spent hating Who’s bothered me not in the least.
But the very moment the beast was all eaten and the celebrations came to an end,
It seemed there was no longer a place for me in the circle of Who-friends.
And I felt so sad as I thought of the cold journey up to my cave all alone.
It was a feeling I’d never had before my heart three-sizes had grown.
I’d spent nights without number contentedly hating those Who’s
But after that amazing Christmas, I had no idea what to do
I was ready to fill all the free time I now had with good deeds,
But some Who’s still treated me like I was nothing but a stealing sleaze.
The truth is true forgiveness takes time and effort from both sides
And some Who’s made it clear they don’t want to open their hearts wide
It feels like my invitation to be part of Whoville was for a short time only
And though I’m no longer grinchy, I have to say now I’m lonely.

Several of the others nodded their heads in understanding.

“I know what you mean about people not fully welcoming you because of your past,” said an elderly gentleman in a silk hat and black frock coat.  “But, for me, it’s worse than that. People either still treat me like I’m a horrible miser with no compassion for my fellow man.  Or, they expect me to be able to save the world’s problems because they’ve heard of my er… my well, let’s just say my change of heart.”

The other gray haired man next to Scrooge nodded empathetically.  “You mean they expect the impossible of you?”

“Well, yes,” Scrooge replied.  “I fully accept responsibility for my past.  In my younger years I did nothing to help my fellow man.  I was able to walk the streets of London and barely see the many destitute who are in need of the basic necessities of life.  Well, they say ignorance is bliss.  Maybe I wasn’t exactly happy, but… now.  After making sure that Tiny Tim got the medical care he needed, I was flooded with requests for help, and I’ve done my best.  But, paying for treatments of even small ailments are incredibly expensive.  It’s not as if I can change the entire health care system!  The Cratchet boy, thankfully, did not die, but there have been others.”

Here he stopped for a moment, and the rest of us watched as he struggled with his tears for a moment.  “I was blind to their pain before.  If I considered their deaths at all I could consider it a necessity due to the overpopulation.  For awhile, I thought that if I worked hard and gave everything I had, I could erase all that pain and suffering, but some things no amount of money can fix.”

At the word money, it seemed he gathered himself together some how.  The familiarity of a topic which could be dealt with rationally gave him some comfort, and he had a deep well of financial experience if little familiarity with the feeling of helplessness and sympathy.  “And, quite frankly, my business isn’t doing as well as it once was.  I was successful because people were afraid of me.  Now, there are many people who won’t settle their accounts with me, because they say they don’t have the money, and won’t kind, good-hearted Scrooge, just forgive their debts.  Meanwhile I see the tailors and the butchers and all kinds of services coming and going through their houses, and I’m sure they’re being paid quite handsomely.”

You could see  Scrooge’s resentment and discomfort with this new truth: that he could be taken advantage of.  He sighed, and went on, “I have to ask myself, who deserves the help, those who say they may loose their charming homes if I insist on my debts, or those who never had a home to begin with?  It shouldn’t be that hard of a question, but I really expected that once given a little help, some of these people would be more capable of helping themselves.

Meanwhile, if I refuse to help even the most obvious swindler, who doesn’t need a farthing from me, but dresses his children in rags and has them sobbing on my doorstep, I’m the ‘same old Scrooge,’ and it starts all over again.  The children fearing me, the women turning their faces away from me in disgust, and men talking about how no one will miss me when I’m dead.”

Will this Support Group Get These Characters Through Their Holiday Blues?  Who Else May Have a Story to Share?  To Be Continued…


Getting in the UU Spirit of the Season

December 4, 2011

Though the Earth is falling into dormancy, we humans are once again trying to make up for the fact that there is little warmth or sunlight by hanging decorations and working up a little more cheer and goodwill toward each other.  “The Holiday Season” has begun.

Yesterday my husband and I spent the day crossing off what we felt was a small to-do list of getting our tree, picking up some materials to make our cards, and taking a picture that we will use to design that little greeting we’ll send to family and friends.

Somehow that took every last minute of sunlight that December day had to give.  And though I did smile every time I saw a pretty red bow around a beautiful green wreath, and was heartened to see the Salvation Army folks getting their red kettles filled, I also saw plenty of the not-so-nice side of this frenzy.  People in stores muttering to themselves about not wanting to be there, stories on the radio about the retail figures being up, which is good, but that people are overspending, which is bad (and no recognition of the irony of reporting both these facts).

I know that even the very scaled back Christmas we’ll be having is a luxury, which is why I’m trying to make the very most of it.  We chatted with the nice man at the Christmas tree farm about how long he’d been growing his trees, why he chose to only grow balsams, and how many people he’d seen that day and where they were coming from.  As we drove away, I remembered the holiday pageant at my church a few years ago where I learned that one of the people credited with starting the Christmas tree ritual in America was a Unitarian.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Follen)

And, since there is still so much my husband and I still want to do before work on Monday morning, including designing that card on our computer and stringing up the lights on that tree, I’m going to cheat a little on this blog and end with a piece I wrote for my congregation’s holiday service a few years ago.  I borrowed the idea of using “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” as a kind of spoof from Christopher Raible.  His version is here, but mine turned out to be a little more sentimental.

 

UU Tidings

Rest your spirits and be merry people, let nothing you dismay.
Though times have changed there is still real truth to the tale Christmas Day.
O tidings of ever-lasting joy!

Every child born is a miracle to forever celebrate.
The one whom we call Jesus taught to turn the other cheek on hate.
But, like each of us, he was once small and in need of his mother’s care.
Look to the manger and see the love of every parent and child there.
O tidings of family and joy! Tidings of family and joy!

Mary’s midwives were animals as she laid her son upon the hay.
Now we remember our connection to all living things on the shortest day.
As the sun returns again to brighten our days and warm the earth.
We honor solstice as a time of light’s and spirit’s rebirth.
O tidings of nature and joy! Tidings of nature’s joy!

As shepherds held their tender vigil over the baby Nazarene,
So should we hold all people in our hearts, even those we’ve never seen.
The spirit of Christmas lives on all the year if we remember to be kind.
As Mary’s son would teach, I am your neighbor and you are mine.
O tidings of brotherhood and joy! Tidings of brotherhood and joy!

Angels may not appear in the skies above today with praises to sing.
Still, no less than a miracle occurs with the birth of every living thing.
As we pass by strangers, may we remember to take the moment to see
the divine sorrow and joy that exists in each of them, you and me.
To bring tidings of comfort and joy! Tidings of comfort and joy!

Tokens we receive and give are in remembrance of the three magi,
but the best gift of all is someone with whom to laugh and cry.
No matter how much the stores call us to rush and spend,
The greatest treasure I’ve received is to have you call me friend.
O tidings of giving and receiving joy! Tidings of giving and receiving joy!

You do not need songs from heavenly hosts or a virgin birth
to accept all beliefs and know that every person has inherent worth.
Though there are many different ways we chose to celebrate,
an open heart and open arms are all that’s required to bridge what separates.
O tiding of peace and joy! Tidings of peace that brings joy!