“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” C.S. Lewis
It is the time of the year when our joy feels more exuberant and our sadness more acute. We are inundated with images of close-knit families gathered around holiday tables and also by what looks like an increase in homelessness, poverty and distress as we are asked to donate, volunteer and surveil our loved ones for depression, anxiety and abuse. Many people experience an increase in their own stress levels as they contemplate shopping for gifts, navigating security lines for holiday travel and trying to set realistic expectations for the season. Let us not forget that the daily news offers us local violence, international terrorists, global climate change and the unnerving voice of presidential candidates eager to talk more and listen less.
I want to suggest an exercise of sorts, one to be completed daily or weekly or hourly even, a practice of awareness to help us navigate the final weeks of 2015. It might be worthwhile to take a few moments to think back to last December and consider what you can actually remember, the specifics. Regardless of your religion, ethnicity or political party, you probably participated in some form of holiday or year-end celebration. Take a moment and think back to last December. If you are so inclined, try to recall the gifts you received, the events you attended and the people you saw, some of them may have been lost to you since last year. Not only by death, but also by choice or circumstance.
I had a hard time remembering the stuff, presents I opened, outfits I fretted over and meals I ate. It was far easier to remember the gifts I gave last year than those I received. It also took me quite a while to think through the people part. The friends and acquaintances I have remained close to and those who have drifted away. It was easy to remember the few who have died this past year, but what about the ones I have just been lazy about keeping? Facebook posts do not equal actual contact and while we are all busy, are we really that busy? Too busy to call a friend on a Saturday morning and spend 10 minutes checking in or too busy to drop by the open house even if we have another invitation across town.
So try taking a little inventory of your December 2014 memories and then consider how you might like to spend this December. What is important to you this year? Stuff or people? Dollars spent or time spent? Rhetoric or intimacy? Intention or image? To be honest, I like a little bit of everything, but with a clear preference for community and intimacy. I would gladly forego the boxes in favor of another evening around the table playing cards with friends who range in age from 10 to 85.
Finally, if the inventory leaves you with the sense that it is time to make some changes in your life or if there are people with whom you would like to connect, but circumstances make that unhealthy or uncertain, consider that this may be the December to take care of yourself and reach out for the life that you wish to create. It is wise and good to turn awareness into intention and ultimately into action.