The holiday season is a time of year that seems to bring out the best in people. People seem to make an extra effort to perform random acts of kindness. There is a spirit of camaraderie and solidarity in the air.
However, it is also a time of year when people's pain and woundedness seem to be more acute. Some people become very conscious of their emotional emptiness and their deep loneliness. Instead of the holiday season being a time of joy and celebration, it's a time of profound sadness and looming darkness.
So many of us get caught in the trap of narcissism and self-centeredness. We are running in four million directions. People are pulling on us from everywhere. The media seduces us into believing that we should spend money we don't have on things we don't need. Bigger is better and more is a necessity.
Somehow, during this time of year the things that are most important get lost in the shuffle of life. Our basic human values get buried and our priority list is often distorted.
This time of year should be centered on people, not things; on building bridges, not walls. It should be a time for healing broken relationships, not further fracturing them; a time for forgiving, not hating.
Sometimes it's easier to hate than to forgive. It takes less energy and time. It's easy to be judgmental, exclusionary and demeaning. It takes more energy to love and really forgive.
Many of us will say we forgive, but we never forget and always get even. Unfortunately, that's not real forgiveness. It is a shallow and superficial dimension of forgiveness, but it's not genuine forgiveness. Real forgiveness means risking being vulnerable to another. It challenges us to move out of our comfort zone and reach out to another, specifically the person who might have hurt us in the past.
Real forgiveness must be the underside of loving. If you genuinely forgive, it forces you to move beyond the things that shackle us and cause us to be closed and narrow-minded. It seems to me that real forgiveness must be a part of any genuine life-giving relationship. If it is absent, it runs the risk of ending in disaster.
For most of us, life is a fragile journey. It has its peaks and valleys. There are days when we are filled with sunshine and days when we are filled with darkness. But we all attempt to stay the course. Hopefully, the detours we encounter along the way build us up, instead of breaking us down.
Part of the journey is learning how to navigate the landscape of our life with hope and courage. This time of year is often a good test of how well our navigating is going. Many people would like to pretend that life is fine. They choose to hide behind their Christmas cards, wrapping paper and decorations. They are not willing to face the real challenges of this time of year.
Human beings are fragile, even though we put up a front that says we are tough. If the truth be told, we all struggle from time to time with our human relationships. For some of us, the holiday season only underscores how difficult and stressful human connections can be.
Therefore, it becomes easy to make excuses, procrastinate and get lost in all the frivolousness of this time of year. We tend to excuse ourselves from dealing with those delicate human issues that are most important to each of us.
How many of us will make time this holiday season to write a note or send a card to someone significant, who we have become distant from? What about all those relationships this past year that have become strained for a whole host of reasons, and we have elected not to address them? Relationships are complicated and at times, very difficult. Thus, sometimes it's easier not to deal with them or convince ourselves that we will deal with them at a future time - that never comes.
JC is the youngest of five children. Her parents are Irish immigrants and very religious. She was raised in a very strict, Roman Catholic household. She and all of her siblings are college graduates. They attended some of the finest universities in the Northeast. All of her older siblings are married and settled.
While JC was an undergraduate at a Catholic college, she met her significant other. They dated throughout school and when she graduated, they continued to date. After completing her undergraduate degree, she went on to law school. She graduated at the top of her class. During law school, she continued to nurture her love relationship.
As the youngest in the family, JC was the most outspoken and most challenging. Although her other siblings did not always agree with their parents, they respectfully complied. JC's parents were strict, but by the time she was a teenager, they had become much more flexible. Her older siblings would say she got away with murder.
Over the years, JC would bring her significant other home for the family to get to know him. However, the one issue she would never discuss was his religion. When it would come up, she would sidestep the issue. When asked, she would merely say he was Christian. Her Dad would press the issue, but she would always change the subject.
After JC took a position with a prestigious law firm in the city, she decided with her significant other, to take their relationship to a deeper level. They announced at Christmastime that they wanted to get married the following year. Everyone was excited and happy that JC was finally going to marry. They all loved her intended.
Once the marriage date was set, JC's parents started to inquire about how the wedding would be celebrated. Like many brides, JC's focus was on the big party celebration. She mentioned nothing about how the actual marriage would be celebrated.
Her parents started to press her about being married in church. She responded by saying she wasn't sure. Her father, old school Irish, went ballistic. He began by asking her why. Initially, she sidestepped his questions. He became relentless. Finally, she blurted out that her significant other was not Catholic. Her Dad went nuts.
He simply told her that if she did not get married in the Catholic Church by a priest, he would not attend her wedding. She retorted, "fine." Both father and daughter became intractable on their position. The wedding plans proceeded. JC was married to a wonderful man in a civil ceremony the following spring.
Shortly after her marriage, JC and her husband relocated to the west coast due to two excellent job opportunities. JC and her Dad did not talk for years. Last December, she received a phone call from her mother indicating that her father had had a heart attack and was hanging on for life in the intensive care unit at Mather Hospital. She indicated to her Mom that it was time for her to come home and reconcile with her Dad.
The next night she got on a redeye flight from Los Angeles to Newark. She landed in the early hours on a Saturday morning. She rented a car and was driving over the Verazzano Bridge when a car in the opposite lane lost control, crossed the double yellow line and hit her head on. She was killed instantly.
Needless to say, when news of JC's death reached her Dad and family, they were devastated. Her Dad was so touched by JC's willingness to reconcile. He acknowledged that over the years he regretted being so stubborn and judgmental. He missed having his youngest daughter in his life. In the midst of his tears, he also said he didn't know how to say he was sorry. He ultimately recovered, but his daughter was dead.
The holiday season presents us with an excellent opportunity to look at our lives and our relationships with others. This time of year affords us the opportunity to seek forgiveness and reconciliation for the broken and wounded relationships in our lives. There is a certain urgency that we should be attentive to. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. Thus, in the spirit of this season, let us celebrate the best that lives within each of us. It is the texture and color of our lives that makes our community a wonderful and diverse place to live.