The holiday season is manic. I’ll just start there. It starts around Halloween and sails right through Thanksgiving into Hanukkah and Christmas and then New Year’s. Since Halloween starts in early October now, with ghosting and decorating and thinking about costumes all part of the lead up to the big night, basically the whole fall, from back-to-school right through New Year’s is rich with the bustle of life and activity and, frankly, the pace is completely unhinged and frenetic and exhausting. Part of me loves it, and a big part of me wants to make it stop!
So, here’s the thing I’ve started to notice as life goes on and I get older, for certain, and hopefully wiser. You have to celebrate the little things in life every day. You have to take a step back and take that deep breath and find joy even when the rest of the day is utterly forgettable. Even when the day includes yet another trip to Party City and all you can think is “I just can’t.” Even when the day is spent stacked with activities and chauffeuring your offspring hither and yon. There is so much to be worn down by, so much negativity, so much TO DO, that you run the risk of missing it all, the proverbial not seeing the forest for the trees.
The stuff that we remember in life, the stuff that matters and that you’ll be thinking about when your time on this Earth is winding down, isn’t the holiday shopping (unless there’s some epic mishap that results in a good story to tell) or what you got or how much you got done, like there’s some holy checklist and the more you check off the better you are or your afterlife will be. No. The manic pursuit of a bucket list, or any list, how many places you’ve been, how much money you’ve made…these are empty and fruitless quests if the goal is happiness or contentment.
The stuff that really fills and sustains the soul, is found in the gathering of friends and family, of multiple generations, to enjoy a cup of coffee and some holiday treats on Christmas morning. The sustenance comes from the sharing of stories and experiences, from toasting our brimming coffee cups that will help us survive the day after a reveille that was a little on the early side. It’s in the sheer delight and simplicity of seeing my mom, who truly is only capable of living in the present anymore, marvel at the Christmas trees and lights and enthusiastically sing out Christmas songs. It’s a warm and gentle sea breeze; it’s the magic of dolphins playfully diving in and out of the waves; it’s a full moon hanging heavily in the evening sky – and still there in the blue of the next morning (a moonset sunrise); it’s a snow day when you just drop everything and play that board game with your kids and bake comfort foods and ignore the “to do” list; it’s a friend who leaves you tea and biscuits at your door when you are down and feeling broken.
There is magic and inspiration in the big things – a marathon or a trip abroad or a new experience. But it’s how you weave the experiences together, it’s what you live with every day, what sustains you when life isn’t particularly glamorous or grand. It’s the daily appreciation of the little things like an umbrella when it’s raining; a baby’s laugh that rings out like a balm for the soul; a solitary chocolate chip; a warm beverage; a hug from a friend.
Remember to be grateful and to cherish all of life’s little moments, even the messy ones. Because life is really the sum of its parts, and the little moments are what matter most.
As I sit here trying desperately to write for five minutes without being interrupted by one of my children, surrounded by the detritus of Christmas, I guess I should try to take this to heart. This is it. This is the good stuff.
So I’ll close with a memory and a song from several years ago. The setting is the East Sangerville Grange in Sangerville, Maine. It was February, it was freezing, the snow was piled high, and a blizzard was on the way. In this simple, modest, one-room grange hall in the central Maine highlands on this cold and snowy night many from the community gathered to listen to Bill Staines sing and play acoustic guitar. And I was introduced to one of the most beautiful and moving songs I have ever heard. It’s called Child of Mine. Click here to hear it live.
The full lyrics are displayed below. And they apply to everyone – adult, child, have children, or don’t – everywhere.
Face, don’t fear, the unknown.
Find joy in each day.
Love sees us through.
Connect with people and our common humanity.
And you will be buoyed by hope. And maybe survive the holiday season just a little more happily.
Child of Mine
Child of mine, you are the wildest wind
And the dearest dream I will ever know
Love’s lasting light shines out from deep within
This father’s heart as I watch you grow
Child of mine, you are the break of dawn
And the brightest star I will ever know
Love’s lasting light comes shining on and on
From this mother’s heart as I watch you grow
There is a road and that road is all your own
But we are here, you need not walk alone
To face, not fear each coming new unknown
Is the way to lift your wings
Child of mine, you are the sweetest song
And the greatest gift I will ever know
Child of mine, where spirits fly above
There is but one that belongs to you
So let it grow and it will thrive on love
For it is love that sees us through
You have the hands that will open up the doors
You have the hopes this world is waiting for
You are my own but you are so much more
You are tomorrow on the wing, child of mine