My Christmas Struggle

grumpy-cat-christmasI struggle a lot with Christmas.

Wait, let me rephrase that. Truthfully, I don’t struggle with Christmas at all. What I struggle with is fitting in during the holiday season.

Nearly everyone else observes Christmas in a completely different way from me. I have reasons for following a different path, but it’s very difficult to hold true to myself without offending the people around me. They tend to think that because I don’t do things their way, I must be criticizing them. I’m not, but their attitudes toward my customs range from indignation to puzzlement. Well, let me try to clear it up.

Up until about 25 years ago, Christmas had a very unpleasant stranglehold on me. Then one year, I finally broke free. At the time, my loved ones thought I’d lost my mind. I hadn’t, but I knew I would lose my mind for sure if I didn’t change my ways.

You see, my family, when I was growing up, was enslaved by a holiday defined by quantity and a drive to impress others with perfect decorations, food, presents and parties. My mother actually counted the number of gifts under our tree as a way of “rating” the quality of that year’s holiday. And it wasn’t only about gifts; to qualify for a “good” Christmas, our house had to be decorated better than any other house, inside and out, and we had to give “the” party of the season with the most impressive gourmet food and drinks. And of course we had to put on a good show, exhibiting “holiday cheer”—whether we felt it, or not.

From the outside it looked great; with decorations, parties and gifts my mother certainly knew how to “impress with excess.” But in the frantic rush to do everything, perform perfectly and be artificially happy, everyone got far too stressed, and made each other thoroughly miserable.

When I became a young adult, not knowing any better I began to duplicate that craziness. I, too, made myself crazy trying to give outrageous gifts and do everything perfectly for the holiday. I didn’t have financial resources like my parents so I tended to spend a lot more money than I should have. As things in my life started going sideways, the stress of trying to be perfect, and exhibit holiday cheer when I felt none became a bigger and bigger burden. Finally, in one particularly depressed year, I couldn’t face it, and I said: no more.

I knew that I had to change. I just wasn’t sure how to do it. My head was swimming, trying to grasp the difference between trying to impress someone, and trying to please them. My mother’s methods had always seemed a little aggressive to me, as if gift-giving were a contest that she was trying to win. It seemed less about pleasing the recipient and more about showing off how much money she had. I knew that was not the way I wanted to keep Christmas. I had to replace that competitive attitude with something more meaningful. I just didn’t know what that was.

The only thing I could think of was to start totally fresh, with a blank slate.

I declared a moratorium. I announced that I would accept no gifts, nor would I be giving any. That year I did not decorate, or prepare any special treats. I had no Christmas tree, did no shopping, and listened to no Christmas music. I rejected all offers of Christmas dinners, parties and other gatherings. It was a truly minimalist Christmas.

christmas-night-skyMy only acknowledgement of that season was going to church on Christmas Eve, alone, in a small church nearby. I didn’t speak to anyone after the midnight service. I slipped out the back, and set out alone to walk the few blocks home. I remember feeling so light, and peaceful. It was a beautiful night, crisp and clear; it needed no artificial decorations to make it beautiful. The sky was deep black, studded with diamond stars, stretching to eternity, more stunning than any Christmas tree. It was still, and quiet. Quiet enough, finally, for me to hear what I needed to hear, without the noise of all that pointless activity. In that silence I felt like an enormous weight had been lifted and I breathed freely of the cold night air, feeling at peace for the first time in a long time.

Wrapped in that crisp, bright darkness, gazing up at the infinite night sky, I suddenly comprehended what it meant for eternity to enter into time. In one blazing flash of insight, I realized that Christmas is about one thing. To immerse myself in that one thing is all that I need. Anything that flows from and serves that one thing is good. Everything else is a distraction.

And at that moment, I realized that I was free.

Since that cold dark night 25 years ago I have settled into my own lovely, small Christmas celebration. Others are welcome to do as they wish, but I know what works for me. I ignore most elements of commercial and secular Christmas, not because there is anything wrong with them, but because I find them irrelevant. I have come to understand what is important for me, and I focus on those things.

Gift giving, for me, now, is not a way to impress, but a way to honor the gift that originated this holiday. I exchange modest gifts with a handful of loved ones, as I am able, not out of any sense of obligation, but because I enjoy pleasing them. My loved ones mostly feel the same, and I am always genuinely pleased by them, too.

I do not decorate. I have no use for Santa, elves, reindeer, or anything else commercial. I don’t object to them, but they are meaningless to me, and certainly not worth expending any money, time, attention or effort. For me, they have nothing to do with the one thing that gives Christmas meaning.

I keep a few quiet traditions that are deeply meaningful to me, but they are private, and ancient, and intimate, and since most people would not understand them, I tend to keep them to myself. I don’t need anyone else to understand them, and I feel no need to convert anyone else to my way of observing the holiday. I do what I do because it’s right for me.

People with families have different priorities, of course, but I feel no pressure to participate in holiday gatherings just because it is Christmas. I treasure time with my loved ones all year long, but I am perfectly comfortable with solitude. In fact, my most intimate Christmas ritual is spent alone, at home, on Christmas Eve morning, listening to a famous radio broadcast. I say alone, but I am not alone. I join an invisible audience of 200 million people who, like me, are in front of radios and computers all over the world, listening to the same broadcast at the same time. Even though I can’t see them, I know we are all attuned to the same thing. I immerse myself in the beauty of that one thing, and I wait to bow my head humbly, honoring that moment when the eternal and the now became one.

That is my Christmas.

I don’t expect anyone to understand it, and certainly don’t expect anyone to change how they celebrate the holiday. Others will find meaning in other ways. But hopefully they will understand that I am not judging or criticizing. I am simply honoring what is meaningful to me.

As the commercial holiday season gets underway, I wish everyone happiness, and joy, and peace.

Virtual Thanksgiving

As a solitary person with no “real-world” relatives, my observance of Thanksgiving differs from most. I have RL friends who are as family to me, but for the past several years circumstances have prevented us from celebrating holidays together. Since coming to the virtual world in 2006, my Thanksgiving has been almost entirely virtual.

In the early years, I sat down for a virtual dinner with one or two friends.

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Thanksgiving 2009

Then after Master took me as his, we had very lovely Thanksgiving dinners in our home in Second Life.

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You may think a virtual feast is easy, but I worked hard cooking the meal!

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Today in Littlefield Grid, our “family” has widened to include everyone on the grid. We have a table set up at Stonehaven and some folks dropped by to share good conversation and friendship.

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Apparently the virtual meal is still quite satisfying!

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I am so grateful for all the fabulous people I have known in the virtual world. Thank you, each and every one of you, for the beauty and joy and fun you have brought into my life. And thank you, Master, for loving me–it is what makes everything possible.

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I thought it was just me

If we ever got honest enough to go out in the streets and uncover our common grief, we would discover that we are all grieving over the same things.

–Miguel Unamuno

shared-sorrowWe all know people who are a little too generous in sharing their troubles. On the other hand, there are those tight-lipped souls who refuse to share anything at all. I’m not sure which is more frustrating.

How often do we try to mask our heartbreak with a veneer of cheerfulness? Sometimes “official smiles” are necessary when you have to function professionally despite being in pain. At other times, I may do it to protect my privacy. It is not everyone’s business to know whether or not I am upset about something.

But in the context of an intimate relationship, whether a close friendship, romantic or D/s relationship, I am not sure that “official smiles” are helpful–or even effective. The people who know you know if something is wrong, no matter how brightly you are smiling. They may just feel the subconscious tingle of discomfort that comes from knowing that something is wrong and you are concealing the truth. Or if they realize that you aren’t telling them what’s troubling you, they may feel hurt at being shut out. Or if they are paranoid, like me, they may not be able to stop their imagination from worrying whether they caused your pain.

So before you “put on a brave face” and hide your sorrow, take a moment to consider if doing so will protect those close to you–or hurt them.

Nobody owes it to me to reveal their troubles. I have no right to demand it. But with those I love, I am always hopeful. I want my dear ones to tell me when they are upset. It’s not a burden. Actually, the honesty is a relief. And when they choose to share their pain, I am honored. I will listen with an open heart, and will not judge. I probably can’t take away their pain. But I can care. I can be with them in it, and support them with my love.

My belief is that love is stronger than sorrow. The only thing worse than being in pain is being in pain alone. Not everyone is able to help. But there are people who will listen, and not judge, or argue, or try to talk you out of your feelings. They will simply care about you, and for you. I try to be one of those people.

When your heart is aching with disappointment and sorrow, it does not make you weak, or flawed, or needy. It makes you the same as every other human being on the planet. We are all grieving. That ache in your heart resonates with the ache in my heart. And when that happens, by being open with each other about it, we both might find strength and healing in our common grief.

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Real Friends

Let me tell you about friends.

In addition to having the best family in any world, I am blessed to have some really awesome friends. I also have a lot of pseudo-friends. There is a difference. There’s nothing wrong with pseudo-friends, but it helps if you can tell the difference.

How can you tell if someone is a real friend?

A lot of people will SAY that they are your friend. But just because they say it, that doesn’t mean it’s believable. If they really are a friend, they will SHOW it.

What really matters, more than what you say, is what you do to the people you say you care about.

Real friends will show you that they want you. If they actually like you, they will take the initiative to seek you out, because they enjoy your company. Even simple, casual contact, phone calls and IMs show you that they want to be around you.

Real friends will show you, in word and action, that they respect you. They will show you to your face… and they will show it behind your back, too. Even when you are not present, they will not say anything negative about you to others, or do anything that communicates a lack of respect for you. Real friends will defend your honor.

Real friends will show respect for the things that are important to you, even if those things are not important to them. They will refrain from making derogatory comments about the beliefs and people you cherish.

Real friends will honor important milestones with you. They respect your significant events, places and people.

No one else but you is responsible for your feelings, but real friends will notice your feelings. They let you know that your feelings matter to them. They show you that it occurs to them to wonder how you might feel, and that they care. They know you well enough to sense how you feel.

Real friends share their important feelings with you, because they want you in their lives. Pseudo-friends continually shut you out, which tells you that they don’t want you or trust you.

Real friends allow you to care about them, and for them.

Real friends value you for more than your skill set. They value you for your character: for who you are, not just for what you can do.

Real friends give you room for failure. They do not devalue you for being imperfect.

Real friends are dependable. When you need them, real friends are there for you. And they trust that when they need you, you will be there for them, too.

Are you a real friend? I try my best to be one.

Are you blessed to have real friends, like I am? I hope so.

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