“Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing, but of reflection.”~Winston Churchill.
December has always been my favorite month of the year. Not only because of Christmas, but because it is my birth month. So of course I am prejudiced. Even though I have lived in warm zones for most of my life, I always enjoy the dipping of the temperatures, the briskness to the air, the shortening of the days. Of course for other members of my family who do live in colder climes, those short days can be depressing. You go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, and can be sucked into a desire to do nothing but curl up in bed under the comforter! I realize I am spoiled living in South Florida.
I remember well one of my first experiences with snow in England after growing up in Jamaica. I was working in a beautiful old home (it was actually the mental health unit of the hospital), and realized that it was snowing. Pure, pristine snow was sticking to the surfaces of the garden: building a little blanket along the bare branches of the trees; creating a snow blanket over the grass; edging the hedges and walls with a soft cushion of white flakes. The flakes bounced and jumped around, getting bigger and stickier. I was mesmerized as I looked out into the Christmas card perfect garden. And then it was time to go home. And somehow my warm coat didn’t feel so warm. Those pretty snowflakes managed to sneak inside my scarf and collar. The bus stop was crowded, and the wait time twice as long as usual, with a bitter wind making my ears ache. It was standing room only when the bus finally arrived. And the journey took twice as long as usual. And the final indignity was when I walked up the sidewalk to my apartment and my glamorous (but definitely not warm) boots landed me swiftly on my rear end. Snow had definitely lost its allure. Right then I was ready to return to the tropics, when the only thing to fear was the crisp Christmas breeze funneling down from Canada.
January will soon be here, with its demand for new beginnings, and plans for self-improvement. But do we take the time to reflect on lessons learned? I remember hearing December 31st called ‘Old Year’s Night’ rather than New Year’s Eve. Which reminds us that before we jump into a new relationship, we should reflect on the gifts and lessons provided by the old. The new is fresh, flashy and clean, full of the promise of change. But we would do well to remember the sage advice of George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” And if we don’t pay attention to the lessons as they pass us by, we may very well not even remember them.
This year has been one memorable year for me. There are so many things that have happened; so many changes that I have gone through, that I may be learning the lessons for some years to come. One lesson is that the only sure thing is that nothing is sure. Bob Marley, pulling his inspiration from the Bible reminded us that ‘when you think is peace and safety, a sudden destruction…’ And yet for the most part we live in expectation, confident that things will go a certain way. Deluding ourselves into thinking we are in control.
So how do you learn to cope with the unexpected; to live with an awareness that things can change fast, sometimes for the better, while at other times it is hard to accept? Buddhists teach about acceptance, about not being attached to things, whether objects, or people, or outcomes. They teach that it is we who place labels on experiences: good; bad; tragic; exhilarating. The experiences themselves come without labels, they are just events that unfold. We can choose to change how we see them, how we experience them.
We all have at least one friend (if we are lucky) who always seems to laugh at adversity. No matter how unnerving or bizarre the situation, they tell the story in a way that has you in stitches, laughing with them, although at the same time you are thinking: how are you still standing upright? We see people who have gone through cruel tragedies who are somehow strong enough to think about others, to forgive, to show compassion. How are they able to transcend the events, to emerge stronger and braver, able to face the future?
One thing that has helped me to get through challenges (although I feel very fortunate, I know many have had to cope with far more severe experiences) is to reflect on the flip side. It could always have been worse. There are always lessons to be learned. There is still much to be grateful for. Every experience brings an opportunity, if we are open and willing to see it.
So on this December morning, as we have already begun the swift descent into the madness of the Christmas season, I hope you find time to reflect on the gifts this year brought you. I hope you remember to reach out to those you haven’t spoken to for a while, and let them know how important they are to you. I hope you make time to honor the memory of those who have shared December with you in the past, who are not able to drink the sorrel, or eat the black cake with you this year. Or in England, to eat a hot mince pie. And to those who are stuck in the cooler climes, I hope you are better prepared than I was, to weather the weather!
May you have a peaceful December, Family, with reflections to warm your heart and prepare you for the New Year. Have a fantastic weekend!