Thursday, December 07, 2006

'Tis the Season

I got a day off from work I don't usually get, so I thought I'd blog a little ...

This is our friend, Victor. He looks like a Humbug, doesn't he? But don't be fooled. This picture of him is a prime example of the difference between outside and inside appearances, which is my theme for today.

I've never been a person who gets the blues around a holiday. Holidays have no bad childhood memories for me. The worst they've ever done to me is make me late with the rent in lean years. This year I'm a little less excited about Christmas, because even though the rent is no longer an issue in my life, it will be our first "childless" Christmas in 20 years. Christmas without kids around is like ... well ... Christmas without kids around.

Still, it's not the kind of "less excited" that spirals into depression and humbuggery ... it's just the kind that makes me put off moving the sleeping cat off my lap to go out to the cold shed and sort through the frozen decorations. We've made a promise to each other to get right on that project this weekend. :)

But I've been thinking about the people who do get the severe Holiday Blues ... and really, the severe blues in general. We were talking today, before Ev left for work, about the role of adversity in life.

One of the things that we have in common is our reaction to hardships and losses. We've been accused of being Pollyannas ... or worse ... optimists ... but the analogy we came up with is that life is a set of stairs. Bad stuff happens to everyone. Childhoods are hard, finances fluctuate, relationships end, people we love die, friendships go sour, parenting is hard, health issues change our lives. Every one of those things is an opportunity to move up or down the stairs.

If we are beaten by them, and we internalize a bitter message about our failure and weakness, we step down. We begin to see every obstacle as just another instance where life is unfair and hopeless. We set in motion a downward path of protecting ourselves, being wary of everything and everyone, and eventually we narrow our viewpoint and "small up" our lives until we end up at the bottom of the stairs ... fully validated that life was out to get us and it won.

If we overcome them, and we internalize a message about our success and strength, we step up. We see obstacles as inevitable times when life takes a turn and offers us an opportunity to do something different. We set in motion an upward path of thinking creatively, taking our lessons to heart, and eventually gathering a cornucopia of experiences that "big up" our lives and make us more willing and able to share what worked for us with others.

Between the two of us we have accumulated enough life experience to have lost loved ones, been broke, succumbed to addiction, suffered life-changing medical challenges, raised children alone, worked multiple jobs, gotten an education against all odds, come out of the closet, fallen and gotten back up more times than we can count ... and all of those things have broadened the circle of people we can relate to and choices we can say we've had to make.

I heard an interesting story about my life recently, through the filter of someone else's view of it. The folklore is that I skated through life without ever feeling the bumps in the road very deeply. I've had relationships with wonderful people that I chucked out the window with nary a backward glance, I've been a taker at the table of life, and no matter what happens to me I come out smelling like a rose.

My recollection of my life is somewhat different from the perspective of living inside it.

I spent a lot of years feeling like every rug I ever stood on was jerked out from under me and that my lesson in life was how to repeatedly start back over with nothing until I got really good at it. Those relationships that looked so wonderful on the outside didn't feel so wonderful on the inside.

That charismatic man who was so talented and affable and popular and funny? He was also prone to dark moods, serial philandering and an inability to transfer his outward jovial friendliness to real emotional intimacy. He was the life of the party ... and the mess you have to clean up afterward. But you clean up that mess when everyone else has gone home, so they don't see it.

That woman who adored me and gave me everything? She was also verbally and emotionally abusive to me, physically abusive to my son, jealous and controlling, and prone to threatening my ability to continue living indoors on a bi-monthly basis. Hers was what Ev calls "the checkbook of doom." But if all I show you is how pretty the expensive sink is, it's because I don't want you to know how much it's costing me emotionally.

Later, when I decide to be honest about the internal hard parts, some people will have already made up their minds up to hate me for the outward appearance. That's where those stairs come in. Looking up at people is a bad perspective. Looking down on people is a bad perspective. My sense is that it's brighter the higher you go, so it's a little easier to see what's going on with other people. It's harder to feel empathy with people who are at a place you've never been.

I like who I am. I like who my partner is. I like knowing that if everything I have and love today were gone tomorrow I would grieve and I would rage and I would feel hopeless for awhile, but I would keep showing up to work and I'd vent to my friends and I'd ask for help if I need it and I'd build something new ... and then I'd share that. I've done it before and I'd do it again. I won't like the process, but I'll like the outcome. As I said, I'm an unrepentant optimist. I feel sorry for people who don't like their lives and don't feel they can ever expect to.

Life has been a steady uphill climb for me. Sometimes I get to stand and admire the view for awhile, but there's never going to be a time when I get to camp out and stay in that restful place forever. But I'm pretty sure that the view from the end of the trail will be a broad and beautiful one. In a peaks and valleys world, I'm a peaks girl.

So those are my thoughts on a cold, wintery day. I look out the window at those little snow flurries and think, "Oh, boy!! Snow!" It never occurs to me to think, "Damnit ... I don't have a snow shovel."

Happy Holidays, and a big Thank You to Victor and the rest of the gang, for being examples of the kind of people I want to be when I grow up!


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