I will need to take a break from posting to the blog for a few days. I am in London and the next few days will be visiting family; I will be incommunicado until the day after Boxing Day (as they call it here). For those of you who don’t know, my wife Sarah is a Brit, and her family is all here. We have a flat in London (Wimbledon, actually) and we spend 2-3 months out of the year here. This time of year there is a lot of seeing family. It’s not *exactly* the twelve days of Christmas, but sometimes it feels like it – opening presents with one part of the family, then another, then another.
This really is one of my favorite times of the year. When I was a kid, as is true for a lot of kids, Christmas was a big deal for me. I loved all the trappings: Christmas trees, Christmas shopping, Christmas lights, Christmas presents. And as a kid I very much appreciated the religious aspects of it as well. I was raised in the Episcopal church, and far and away my favorite worship service of the year was the Christmas Eve service, where carols would be sung, the story retold, the appropriate scriptures read. And it would end in candlelight, each of us holding a lit candle, softly singing Silent Night. Terrific.
I still love the season and like to listen to Christmas music starting with Thanksgiving, everything from Little Drummer Boy (I’m a complete sentimentalist when I’m not being a hard-nosed scholar and critic!) to the Messiah. But, of course, the religious dimension has disappeared for me. No more prayers, sermons, confession of sins, or Silent Night in the dark. It’s sad in some ways to have seen that part of my life disappear, and I do feel a kind of emptiness as a result. But there’s nothing for it. One can never go home again and one cannot go back to a place (in this case, a metaphorical place) that one has left for good and compelling reasons. But one does sometimes feel a hole in one’s life.
The key, I think, is not simply to wallow in pity and regret at what has been lost, but to find new meaning to fill the void. I do that in lots of ways, as I’m sure many of you do as well. I think more about the meaning of my life, why I’m here, and what I want to do while I am. I read fiction that I find meaningful and gripping. I pursue my loves and passions. I enjoy as deeply as I can my personal relationships, with Sarah, my mom, my kids, my grandkids. I try to deepen and appreciate my friendships. I enjoy the simple pleasures in life – good food, good drink, good music, good film, good books.
And I deepen my commitment to people in need. It is terrifically frustrating, aggravating, and unnerving to realize that Jesus was absolutely right, “The poor you will always have with you.” But just making a little bit of difference in some people’s lives shows me that the struggle to help others is not in vain and pays enormous rewards. It often does not take *much* to help out those in desperate need, and this time of year I resolve even more to do that, as much as I can.
So this Christmas season I’m renewing my commitments to my family, my friends, those in need, and myself, enjoying the good parts of the season – the family, food, drink, presents, trees, lights, memories of holidays past, and family and friends of the past – while feeling a little bit of sorrow, at least, for what has been lost, but a whole lot of appreciation for what has been gained.
I hope you have a terrifically relaxing rewarding and rejuvenating holiday. I will be back on the blog in several days.