The week that sits smugly between Christmas and New Year's has always been a week of limbo wonderland for me.
I love the smells and the sights of the holiday season. I like how people seem to be just a little nicer (when they aren't stressing out over parking spaces and retail deals.)
I love getting the tree out, and remembering the who, what, and when of the stories our ornaments tell. The stringing of lights -- should we do all white? Purple? Multi-colored? And where are those little pinecones and snowmen I love? I like the cold weather, the white of the snow, the gentle snowflakes falling against the window --sticking fast then melting slowly, the birds perched on branches, pecking away at the seeds, the warmth of the fire,the smell of hot cocoa with gooey marshmallows that melt into oblivion, the sweet taste of candy canes, the tartness of the lemon over the fish... oh, the sights and sounds and smells of the season can be intoxicating!
But then there is the end of the year, the reckoning of what was and wasn't accomplished. Where we were and where we are now. It is incredibly sobering to stop and take measure of what you've done with the last twelve months. How much you've grown, and for many of us, how much you may have regressed in areas where you most needed to let go.
I get a double-whammy of navel-gazing this time of year because my birthday falls during this week, too. I think of where I am with my health -- my family, my friends, my work -- and where I may have thought I wanted to be. Fortunately, I don't think I would change much if I had the chance to relive my life. I find myself ever bolder than ever these days, saying what I think, and meaning what I say. I am trying to make what is hopefully, the second half of my life even more rich than the first. I tend to think that we age like fine wine -- we only get better with time. But stopping to assess and enjoy a few sips along the way is essential. No sense in going to your grave with an unopened bottle.
When I was in grade school, I hated having a holiday week birthday. Mine was celebrated with family, but without much fanfare, and honestly, that was something I grew to expect. I'm not actually complaining. I think they did the best they could -- as they struggled with their own demons during the holidays -- but they did share this unmistakable melancholy veil that tinted holidays to come.
As I got older and could choose what I wanted, I was fortunate to have colleagues for friends. They would have champagne and cake with me if I worked that week. And my sweet husband always remembers and has surprised me with his creativity and kindness, especially in years where I have felt the lack of sunshine and the paradoxical sadness which is the other side of holiday joy.
I think about so many people who suffer from loneliness during a season even though they are surrounded by people. I have worked hard to combat those feelings by adopting people as family into my life. We spent this Christmas Eve surrounded by our "chosen family." Many of us were talking about how incredibly cool it is to be with people who don't put you into any role from your childhood. No family fights, no biting commentary. Just silliness and laughter and a sense of camaraderie.
The idea of having people in your life because you want them there, not because they have to be there is quite compelling to me. Spontaneous expressions of wonderment which come from sharing experiences is the best gift of all. Having someone like you for you. That's more than any mandatory family (or relationship) can offer, it is indeed something to be treasured. I am not a religious person, and although I know some people think labeling yourself as "spriritual" is a cop-out -- it's the truth. I don't believe in a "god" but I do believe in the magic of our spirit. I believe in people I meet who are extraordinary in their willingness to grow. I believe in old souls and new perspectives. I get the butterfly effect -- I feel it. Energy is alive and can be shared or sucked out of us depending upon our own awareness of how we affect others.
Not sure what 2014 will bring, but looking back on this year, and celebrating this past week with people I care deeply about makes me feel very lucky indeed.