So now we are in full-bore holiday mode. Like most people, I love parts of this time of year, and dread other parts.
On the downside, we see the rapacious commercialization that has come to infest the month of December. We see shopping malls crowded to the point of being almost impossible to get to, let alone shop in. We see lonely people surrounded by celebrations that only leave them feeling more lonely. We see office parties that reek of hypocrisy as people feel they have to attend, even though they may quite dislike the place where they work. We see people getting triggered by memories of unhappy holidays from their childhood, or even just last year. In short, we see a ton of misery under the mistletoe, amidst the Hanukkah gifts, or around whichever tradition you might choose. Even if you are part of no tradition, that creates its own peculiar sorrow.
On the other hand. There’s always that other hand. The older I get, the more sorrow I see, but also the more courage I witness. I have a niece who is one of the bravest women I know. She would kill me for saying so, so please don’t tell her. But she is a true hero. Nearly killed in a childhood accident when she fell down a laundry chute at age 5, she went on to become a world class equestrian, participant in the World Championships, after which she said to herself, “Well, I can’t do this forever, so I better get a job.” The “job” she picked was to go back to school, take pre-med courses, go to medical school, and become a doctor. Now she is an Emergency Room physician, married to a major player in the equestrian world, and mother of an adorable little girl.
She’s known tragedy. Her mother died at the age of 58 of cancer. And just two years ago her brother, an orthopedic surgeon, died of ALS, still in his 30’s. Devastated by these horrible losses, my niece soldiered on, making the best of a life she’d seen shattered in profound ways.
Now she faces difficult and painful back surgeries to correct the damage done by her childhood fall. Her attitude? Brave, determined, positive. Told she’d be out of commission for two months, she replied, “You don’t know me.”
Where does that come from? The “you-don’t-know-me” gutsy, gritty grip on life? Wherever it comes from, that’s what I want to celebrate this month. The will to live. The push to prevail. The refusal to be knocked out, even after you’ve been knocked down.
I look at my niece and feel inspired and emboldened by her example. She is not the least impressed by herself, which just makes her all the more impressive.
Friends, let us all find the impressive in each other. Let us all be there for one another this holiday season. Let us all make the most of whatever situation we are in, much as my niece is doing now. Let us take inspiration where we find it, and provide inspiration where we can.
This holiday season, at its core, rings in hope. It is a celebration of hope, of the triumph of the will to live over the forces that oppose life, of possibility over impossibility and despair.
Rejoice in one another and in hope. Be there. Look up, look homeward, look for the best in all you see and take in.
My warmest, most hopeful wishes go with you.