Monday morning. December 22nd. Christmas is inches away. I sit at my kitchen island, white and clean now, five reindeer carved from tree trunks staring at me as I type these words. The girls are huddled on the couch, watching cartoons. It's their first day of winter break. Husband putters around the kitchen in his red fleece, preheating the oven for lemon poppy seed bread, pouring tea. And I am here. Here.
I just had this thought. Like most thoughts, I think it falls somewhere between perfunctory and profound, its ultimate meaning opaque because of its newness: There is no right thing. Five words. Admittedly vague, cliched, worn. But they hit me now because they fit.
There is no right thing to say. As many of you know, Dad died six-plus years ago and this loss is something that has shaped me and the way I live my life. I'm able to think and write about Dad without feeling deep sadness which I see as a good thing. Time is passing. I'm evolving. But one thing that has happened, that I feel oddly thankful for, is that people - and several - reach out to me when they lose people or when their friends do and they ask: What can I say that might help? And I wish more than anything I had an answer, a ready-made phrase of bundle of phrases that were tantamount to magic, that might unequivocally ease suffering. I don't. There is no right things to say. All we can do is say things, honest, felt imperfect things. All we can do is be there for the people we love and the people who need us. All we can do is not hide and not play it safe. What do we say to someone for whom the holidays are hard? There are many people who are more in survival mode than celebration mode at this time of year and what do we say to these people? We say something.
There is no right thing to do. So many of us like to fix things. It is hard for us to see something broken (in ourselves or others) and not try to fix it. Helplessness is hard and we want to take action and help and make things better. But sometimes things are the way they are, if temporarily, and we must just be here and bear witness and make small gestures that will never solve anything, but might help the tiniest bit.
There is no right thing to feel. A biggie. For all of us. I think we are all caught up, consciously or no, in an ethos of should. In Situation A, we should feel B and if we don't, something is wrong with us. It is the holidays and many of us feel that we should feel joyous and festive and grateful and wildly happy, but this isn't the way all of us feel. For some of us, the holidays are tricky terrain for a multitude of reasons. For some of us, this is a particularly hard year. We must let ourselves - and those we care about - feel what we/they feel. We must do our very best to eliminate Should.
I don't think social media helps with any of this. I think being bombarded with shiny images of other people's lives serves to mock us and antagonize us. I think Facebook feeds and Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards are a constant whispering of Should. And I also know that I am immersed and complicit in all of this. I post beautiful shots of my life and they are not false, but they are curated. I know very well that someone who looks at my feeds probably thinks I have this perfect, precious life.
And I don't. Because none of us does.
I have a good life. A real life. A complicated, layered existence laced with love and effort and gratitude and abiding imperfections I'm working to accept. I have strengths and weaknesses and hopes and dreams and wild joys and lingering sadness. I have curiosities and regrets and pride and presence and distraction and so much more.
I am grateful for my life at the moment, this particular moment in this particular December in this particular year. And I will honor this moment by going off to live it instead of trying, as I so often do, to capture it in words.
There is no right thing.
I will remember this small sentence as I navigate the dregs of 2014. I'm thinking of all of you, in your own moments, in your own lives, and I'm wishing you as much health and happiness as is possible now, bits and pieces of true peace, smiles when they are able to come, hugs, cookies, laughs, lights, memories, and most of all love.
See you in the new year!