To anyone struggling this season.
Sometimes I wonder if the joy of the holidays for people with loved ones is worth the sadness they could cause for people without. And some may feel blue because this is the first year there’s an empty seat at the table. Holidays are emotional and dramatic, unlike the way they’re portrayed in Hallmark movies where all is calm with snow blanketing the earth in peaceful white. Those stories are packaged like the boxes that sit under perfectly groomed pine trees. We all know that no one’s life is really like that, but still we wonder if others’ experiences are better and more fulfilling – because sometimes, that’s how it seems.
A couple years ago, I spent December 25 alone in a doctor’s office. I was going through IVF to become a single mom, giving myself daily injections to harvest eggs that would hopefully become embryos. On that particular day, I imagined the rest of the world signing holiday cards for jolly parties, as I signed documents about the fate of said embryos if I were to die. I don’t celebrate Christmas, so I thought it clever to get the chore over with on a day when even grocery stores were closed. I didn’t anticipate the amount of times I’d have to scribble across the line that read Partner’s Signature, nor how depressing the quiet, dingy clinic would feel. Never had I felt more alone. Yes, I have friends, parents, and siblings, but none of them slept under the same roof as me.
Today, I have Autumn, but I think often about friends who are where I was for most of my adult life, feeling left behind and unhappy with their circumstances. Maybe they wanted a husband, two and a half kids, and a white picket fence, but things turned out differently. They hear couples at the store discussing whether they need more milk, and they long to attend zoo lights with a hand to hold. They sit feeling sad, then tire of the pity, then treat themselves to a spa day and think the heck with this – I deserve to be happy and I don’t need anyone to help me get there. They take a shower, put on their favorite shirt, and head to the Kristkindlemarket, because we are social beings who need others, but also we should try to be fulfilled on our own. And then there’s what my mom always reminds me – how if you want something someone has, you have to take their whole package, and the package may not be as good as it seems.
These days, I see my daughter’s shape sorter as a symbol for the way life is portrayed versus how things are. In the toy, there are exact lines and clean curves and all the shapes fit perfectly in their spot. But nothing about life is like that. It’s hair out of place, jeans too tight, and awkward moments. Because unlike the shapes, we are not plastic nor cut from molds. We are unique in our brokenness, and also in our quirks and gifts, which is as beautiful as it is frustrating. And just because things are this way now, doesn’t mean they will remain so forever. Death and taxes get all the attention, but to those I’ll add change. Because change is also a certainty. In an instant, things can get better, worse, or just plain different, and in a little time a dreadful Christmas can become a long ago story about a single sad moment in a transformed life.