A Few More Thoughts for the Holiday Season, or, My Laundry’s Laughing at Me

Every year at this time, I feel a recurring urge to sum things up, make a grand gesture, sew up loose ends – something big to mark the passing of another year. When I was younger, I always used to get completely worked up about having a good time – no, the BEST TIME EVER on New Year’s Eve. Invariably, the night turned out to be a drunken argument between me and my date, because damn it, nobody can withstand that kind of pressure!

So I’m not trying to make any grand statements here, no major revelations, no deep wisdom… just point out a few things that seem like patterns to me, and see what type of connections we can make. After all, it is a reflective time of year.

I think one of the things that scares me most is beginnings. Sometimes when I have to head in a new direction or start a new project or even complete a simple task like doing the dishes, I am gripped with an overwhelming sense of… anxiety. At least that’s what us seasoned experts call it. But once the warm water is flowing over my hands, I’m good. In fact, I relish those sensations. I love the actual process of bringing the dishes and glasses and pots back to their original, smooth state. I love stacking everything just so in the drainer, in a particular pattern that I’ve developed over the years that maximizes its capacity. The sense of order I get seeing the empty sink, wiped clean of any remaining food particles or soapy residue, and the dish rack filled to capacity, is actually quite soothing.

But taking that first step can sometimes be so nerve wracking, that I’ve had to just walk away from the kitchen and come back later in the day, or the next morning. Other things around the house can induce that kind of inner paralysis – doing the laundry, for instance. Once I push myself to sort and wash it, I’m only halfway there. I’ve actually stepped over baskets of clean but increasingly wrinkled clothing for weeks at a time. Go figure.

This kind of avoidance behavior does nothing for one’s sense of confidence. You give a pile of wash or a stack of dishes that kind of power over you, and the next thing you know, you’re being bullied by unpaid bills. It’s a slippery slope, my friends. In fact, can’t you just imagine the pit of my stomach clenching right now, as we speak???

OK look, this post is not meant to be Things That… Freak Me Out Part 2, but I will say that I’m glad to be naming all of this fear and anxiety so close to the end of the year. I really need to get this shit out of my system before New Year’s Eve, or I’m bound to have a totally sucky night…

Have you noticed that many psychotherapists are kind of wacko? Don’t get me wrong! I love therapists, and believe me, I’ve seen my share. But seriously, they are one nutty bunch. Not that I’m making any kind of a generalization here… well, I kind of am, but in a good way… because it’s a natural tendency for people to want to heal the thing that troubles them most. Well, heal or destroy, I guess. Take for example homophobes, who definitely skew high in the category of repressed homosexuals, don’t you think? Kiss em or kill em or heal em, I guess…

There’s a theme here. We gravitate towards the thing that most holds our curiosity, our fear, our confusion, our anger. We keep on visiting old wounds again and again, often re-enacting a painful dance like a moth that burns itself repeatedly against a light bulb. The patterning of familiarity is deep, regardless if it works for us or not, and breaking free from that pattern can be just as frightening as the consequences of repeated injury from staying in it.

So despite any resolutions to the contrary, I am quite certain that I will be walking into this new year facing all of the same old bad habits and challenges with which I’ve been struggling all of this past year. My only hope is that perhaps I’ve learned a few things along the way, so all of that bashing my head against the wall will not have been completely in vain.

As a way of setting the correct tone, this year I am changing up my holidays a bit. I figured out from the last couple of Decembers that merely doing what I always did before, except with one key person missing, was way too sad and painful. (For anyone who has lost a member of your immediate circle, I would suggest a balanced blend of maintaining certain meaningful traditions along with starting new ones.)

Being that I’ve been part of a blended family for a couple of decades now, I’ve picked up a bunch of traditions along the way. This year I decided to share as many different religious and cultural traditions as I could with my son. So far, we’ve attended one Chanukah party and lit the candles in our home for each of the seven days (tonight will be the eighth). I’ve taught my son the accompanying prayers I’ve known since I was a little girl, and he has been singing them with me from memory each night. Christmas included not only our little family tradition of presents under the tree first thing in the morning, but an afternoon trip to a local church to help serve meals to homeless and hungry families.

Now we’re moving into Kwanzaa, preparing to learn about and celebrate its family and community building principles one evening this week with friends, and on New Year’s Eve we’ll be back at church for a Watch Night service. This is a tradition that dates back to the late 1700’s, with roots in a small Christian denomination called the Moravians, who used this practice to reflect on their readiness to meet their maker, should this be their last night on earth. The practice was picked up by Methodist founder John Wesley, who turned it into a monthly ritual.

Watch Night took on a particular significance on the night before January 1, 1863, the first day of the official end of American slavery. On that particular night, African Americans gathered in Black churches all across the south, awaiting their first moments of freedom as the Emancipation Proclamation would become law at midnight. Just imagine adding to the tradition of meditating on your state of grace the dimension of jubilation in learning that you are no longer a slave??? I would’ve been dropping to my knees in gratitude, too!! This tradition has been kept alive in parts of the African American community for nearly 150 years, and I will be proud to share it with my son this weekend.

In the meantime, there is work to be done. Work work, as in my job, domestic work, as in the various things that need cleaning, fixing, purging, and otherwise tending to in my home and family life, and creative work, as in the multitude of stories and essays that are pressing their way out of my subconscious daily with, it seems, a greater and greater sense of urgency. And the holidays, though they are giving me a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the joys and reflect on the sorrows in my life, have only created a backlog on the very mundane responsibilities that haunt me the most. I am struggling with the transition back to daily routine as we speak. And though I am encouraged by the fact that my kitchen sink is actually clean at the moment, there is a growing pile of dirty clothing in my hamper, and I swear I can hear it chuckling…

Photo courtesy of Nrico


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