This time of year, with its many contradictions [in some circles, Jesus’ purported birth came in June not December, a time of celebrating the winter solstice and reflection on the year’s passing, a punctuation we could attach some meaning to; the mythology of a winter birth was more romantic, especially when conjoined with a journey pursuing the brightest star in the cold, clear night sky, resonating more with the seeker strand in our DNA than a hot summer trek across desert sands, when traveling at night reveals more practical intent than spiritual quest] always brings a mixed bag of emotions for me. A ‘season’ of giving turns into a feeding frenzy of consuming; ‘sharing’ becomes yearning for more, never being satisfied because an infinitude of choice has been built-in to our social construct, carefully constructed and meticulously manufactured by a mafioso of marketing and advertising gurus who come up with new and improved ways of turning wants into needs. Making life a lie of pure greed.
‘Tis the season of always seeking out a better ‘deal,’ when we admire shopping skills over developing a spiritual practice; when taking stock of the passing year translates into the obsessive tracking of the ‘consumer-spending index,’ fostering the communal ‘retail sales’ anxiety that drives our self-worth as a nation, that leads to a collective consciousness prescribed serotonin re-uptake inhibitors just to get through a life.
Our collective clambering up the steep face of ‘the economy’ (which is how we define ourselves as a collection of citizens, we are defined by our economic worth in the world, on a global scale, followed by our military might which is our only ‘saving grace’ as a formidable land of would-be giants) has been allowed to supplant a sense of sacred space where sharing a common place in time because a community, building beliefs based on universal truths, on a foundation of the uniting forces of common ground. Now, our ‘common ground’ is pure capitalist greed. Our sense of sacred is a nativity scene, lit up by a floodlight in the ground, a decaying, fading notion of spiritual connectedness between human beings.
Who can feel the wonder of a holy ‘holiday’ when submerged beneath the currents of an incessant and ubiquitous consumerism, that has evolved out of a mess of Western traditions stirred up into the same slop — where ages of reason and ‘progress’ of thought inevitably lead to epochs of backsliding, when overreaction to any ‘enlightened’ evolution takes us on a path of regression to the basest human tendencies [e.g., Inquisitions, ‘witch’ trials, ‘Crusades’ in the name of god, any persecution of the ‘Other,’ the seeking to destroy any not aligned with the views, customs, mores and hypocrisies of ‘faith’ as established by the power structure], when we should be filled with wonder in this season of celebration, a message sent to us from a higher power, we wallow in petty concerns, sit in traffic, worry for paychecks that did not arrive in the mail, put less ‘under the tree’ and wish for ‘things’?
This time of year brings mixed emotions, from wanting to feel joy for what was given to us from our so-called creator, the one who brought us into existence, to a nostalgia for what has been lost to me on a personal level. The holidays have never been the same since my family imploded, when I was around 22 years old (now over 20 years ago, it still ‘feels just like yesterday,’ when my nuclear family drifted away, was overhauled, discombobulated, gutted and re-invented as a mishmash, hodgepodge, messy approximation of the mirage I had accepted as real for those first 22 years of my life) because we never had another Christmas together as ‘a family.’ The four of us in one place at the same time. This was something we had no warning for, something that had I known was coming, I would have savored — the Christmas of 1986, when I was still in college, my brother was still on his first marriage, and we all still called “Reflections,” our 22-acres of sanctuary, our home. That all changed in one phone call in January 1988, when I was in Sydney, Australia. Something I didn’t even know was at risk was suddenly just…gone.
Family and home, discombobulated, inverted, overturned, never to be reconstructed in a cohesive form, but rather left to disintegrate over time into separate, static orbs molded from formerly connected plights –– from a shared space in time — which, now, can never coalesce or even collide at this point, having become indistinct spheres borne 4 very different, even disparate, perspectives. Now, so far away from each other — in space, time and feeling — that they don’t recognize one another.
Any whole that once was — illusory or not — has faded, so far away in light years, it is hard to re-imagine a coming together again. Any healing has become ‘out of the question.’ The notion of family I once had is completely gone now. That never gets easier to take, the loss never subsides, only becomes more acute at certain points in time.
This year marks the passage of exactly the same number of years that I knew of ‘family’ and the number of years that have passed since that ‘family’ unit dissolved. The same four people still existed but in a disconnected form. 22 years I had of an idyllic, pastoral setting with this quirky set of folk, loosely connected by paper and ink declaring who we belong to, translation: I am adopted. 22 years of life believing in the myth of family followed by 22 years of the broken notion of ‘family,’ 22 years spent trying re-fashion complete disillusionment into some kind of livable mode where acceptance is the best you can hope for.
This is the disparity, the contradiction of Christmas, for me. The things I used to love, the joy of coming together around a fire, the way my father wrapped presents (messily taped and ready to rip open), the laughter, sitting by the fire, the coming together at this holy time of year. We were a family then, I suppose. Since that time, we have been four separate satellites, not necessarily in the same orbit. And now, with all those dysfunctions from mythological times revealed, the satellites are approaching different galaxies, and it feels like they will never again been anywhere near the same orbit path through this time here we share.
I have not seen or spoken to my brother in many years, coinciding with his third marriage and a family of his own. He has been allowed to supplant our original bond, recreate his own version of the mythology, he gets to spend that time with my father, while my mother and I are on completely opposite coasts, she in a winter wonderland, me in my studio apartment where the weather is perfect and palm trees get hung with lights.
There is no adequate way to explain the loss I feel, it is deeper than any crevasse I have ever been made to cross. It is a darkness that allows only the faintest light to guide my way through, out of pity for one who has no other, nothing to call my own, nothing to connect to, nothing known as part of me. I have been severed, as a person, as someone who was at the receiving end of pain, that while unacknowledged, kept things in the balance, but once revealed, put me on the outside looking in.
How and why did that happen? What is the joy that I am missing, other than an illusion that never should have been believed in, in the first place. And I don’t know how or why to replace it, just that it feels missing. This time of year just gives me a sense of loss and lack that I am trying to fill in. I am not allowed to feel wholeness, there will always be this hole in my heart, possibly for the next 22 years, possibly less, probably not more. That could be something to look forward to. But it doesn’t feel that way now.
What to believe in? I don’t know right now, although sometimes I seem to do better. If it’s all just replacing something that wasn’t real in the first place, it’s like a double entendre. Double jeopardy. How or why would you recreate an illusion? To get a semblance of that feeling that, for me, was real for those first 22 years. And for the past 22? Has been something movable, transient, never quite landed or stabilized, just spinning like a satellite out of control, off course, not able to be re-linked or held onto. Wondering when this will ever change…
I can try to re-invent the meaning, for myself, cut off from what was before, the mythology that never really worked, was just an illusion of a mirage of a mythical family oasis. It really was the home that made the family — the family had made the home, but in the end, it was the home that substituted for the real bonds between a core of beings, connected by name and shared space.
Or I can completely look away from that and move on to something else entirely — a new mythology perhaps? If one is cynical, then yes. Or maybe just a reconnection to some pure notion of faith, hope, believe come true, reinforced by the story of the birth of something from God, to us, something He or She would sacrifice for us, on behalf of us, to show that we were understood.
I do seem to know this — I can never go back, what once was will never, ever be again. Not the way I perceived it, or thought it was. And yet that fulfilled something unspoken in my heart. I know I was happy in those times. The holes in the myth were plugged, for the moment, by hope, joy, forgetting, ignoring the bad side, forgetting, forgiving for the moment, a reprieve from paying attention to all that was, in service of what could be.
It’s hard to replace the simplicity of human need [to feel connected, to have a family to go home to] with the abstraction of spiritual connectedness. It’s hard to take, hard to accept, hard to let go, even after 22 years. This marks a certain balance in things — the same distance and time for knowing what it feels like to have a family, however dysfunctional and crazy, they were my family to love and honor, cherish for their knowing of me, loving me despite all things, and holding a place for me at the table — that should be able to be reconciled, a benchmark in time, but how? And sometimes, even, why? That is the saddest part.
I am gradually losing the reasons to want what is lost, possibly because it is fading into illusion. It is the knowing that what was can never be again, but also the realization that it wasn’t as good as you imagined. Despite the nostalgia, in retrospect things we once held dear can dissipate like an airy cloud on the sunniest of days.