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Joyous Strains

December 19, 2011

Christmas brings so much. As the day approaches, I find memories visiting me. Wistful, slightly faded memories, usually preserved and tucked into special spots, surface as this holy season presides.  As the happy, revered memories tumble from their spots on the dusty shelves, the painful memories, shoved under couches and buried in bags, also vie for the light of my attention.

My memories–my armor and my underbelly. The filaments of my existence that build my confidence and simultaneously kick me in the ass.

I pause and sit for a moment in this place where happy and sad, uplifting and painful, collide.


Recollections visit of glowing orange Christmas lights, casting a magical, odd glow on every thing in its swath. A crackling fire, warming my red and green flannel Lanz nightgown and painting my cheeks a fiery crimson. A muffled jingling of Santa’s silver sleigh bells outside my bedroom window, proving the unprovable.

I remember a stone church and a Christmas Eve Mass. I can still see the thin, late afternoon light, dwindling by the moment. Our church, a tiny structure of limestone and years, stood stoically in the waning light and stalwart in the December cold. As we entered, the warmth of the sanctuary filled my lungs and softened the harsh confines of the cold.

The advent candles signified the arrival of this sacred night and cast their glow on the live evergreens throughout the church. Each pine needle wore the illuminated glow of light. My young legs, clad in thick, cotton, red cable-knit tights, swung from the pew bench as I soaked it all up.

Hark the Herald, angel sing

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

…Echoing their joyous strains. Glo-o-o-o Glo-o-o-o, Glo-o-o-o-o-Ria. In excelsis de-o…

The hymns, intertwined with my palpable excitement about Christmas, conspired to transport me entirely. The heavy incense, a scent I still covet, infused the space with sacred reverence. Another Christmas Eve memory interrupts, knocking loudly. This one provides depth to my history, for sure, but doesn’t glow, or shine.

My mother, my brother and I stood in a dark alley behind my mother’s apartment. I cannot remember the year. We were getting ready to go somewhere but, ignited by some benign conversation,  I stomped off into the Christmas Eve night instead of getting into the car.  With the dark of the night mirroring the darkness within, I walked. I remember raging disappointment and the swirling pain in my gut, my heart and my mind. This may be the first time that I allowed the raw emotion, rapidly raging under my skin, to surface. So many events predicated this eruption: my parents’ divorce.  My family structure turned downside-up. My perceived loss of security and financial stability.  I sat in the dredges of a dissolved dream. My depression, which didn’t even yet have a name, was poignant and vivid.


As Christmas approaches, I see this kaleidoscope of my memories. The jewel-like gems juxtaposed with the dark, equally-as-important, shadows. The underbelly of that dark emotion used to fill my stomach with dread.

Pamela (whose writing and reflections are a constant gift) wrote a post months ago which still stays with me today. She wrote,

I was listening to an interview with Jack Kornfield – SuperMeditator – the other day in the car and he was talking about freedom. He said, “True liberation is the freedom to be who you are and not someone else. To hold yourself with compassion and say ‘This too, this too.’ It doesn’t mean you don’t have your stuff. But it’s about letting all that in along with the good.”

In the close of this post (which I’ve easily read five times), Pamela wrote,

It’s about being okay with being not quite okay. It is a nod to all of the mess. This too. Yes. This too.

Often, as I begin to judge an experience or a reaction, I whisper this glorious meditation to myself: this too, yes, this too. I used to chide those painful memories as a handicap, like a turtle rendered useless on its back. As the recollections echo this year, I am instead finding joy in their refrain. I now see a gift in that strained pain. I smile and nod. And instead of shoving that tangle of depression, disappointment and anger into a dusty corner, I put in on the shelf with the cherished memories. No longer regulated to dusty bunkers or disregarded, I say, with practiced peace,

This too, and Yes, This too.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2011 2:12 pm

    Where your strength from your struggle like a badge!!!! God knows you have earned that badge of courage!

  2. December 19, 2011 2:12 pm

    meant to say “wear”

  3. December 19, 2011 7:55 pm

    Lovely. I know just what you mean, about how memories can both enrich and handicap our lives. Their richness and their pain. xox

  4. December 20, 2011 9:38 am

    Thanks, Denise – this is so lovely and so true. It’s like a tapestry we weave… bitter and sweet, all pulled together into one…

    Merry and Happy and love to you…

  5. December 20, 2011 10:24 am

    Ahhhhh. This too. This too. Music as palpable as Hark the Herald Angles Sing. I love this song you’re singing at every level, because it is a beautiful kaleidoscope. Taking the broken pieces of our life, scooping them up and embracing them enough to make something new…that kaleidoscope of something beautiful, it is the best way to live. I love this.

  6. December 20, 2011 12:16 pm

    A serrated blade, memories, but also beautiful.

  7. December 20, 2011 9:37 pm

    Thanks Lady. You are so nice to me. I wish I could write like you. I love this raw honesty – thank you. Every holiday, I always feel like I may lose my holiday cheer any second … because of what you write about so beautifully – all of those lovely holiday memories and all of the painful ones intertwined. (I am always just a teensy bit relieved when January 2 gets here).

    Have a wonderful time this year – whatever arises. xoxoox

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