This month marks the winter solstice, the shortest, darkest day of the year. It’s a time to turn inward and allow the shadows to loom up and over us while we patiently, trustingly wait for the light. It’s fitting then that when I wrote last week about some of my challenges as a single mom, I heard from readers who were remembering their own dark times.
Three women shared with me why it’s particularly hard to hold the light around the holidays:
Ann said, “Where do I begin? Shopping for the kids, alone. Spending Christmas Eve alone because it’s their dad’s turn to have them. Watching the kids have to shuffle between houses for the holiday. Paying for the bulk of their gifts with no financial help. Putting up the tree after lugging it from my car. One of the stressors is worrying that they don’t make the same mistakes that I did and end up as single moms! I worry about that a lot.”
For Judy, it was “sharing the kids and seeing them returning from their dad’s. I was usually just home alone awaiting their return on Christmas Eve while it seemed the rest of the world was happily enjoying their nuclear families. By the time we visited with my family, I had very minimal time personally with them. I wanted more on so many levels (I STILL DO!).”
Shirley wrote that it was a “daily struggle to survive financially and survive the anger I felt as my children were doing without. Thankfully, I had little emotional energy left to think too much about anything I might be missing. I never want to revisit those days.”
I write about my own ‘dark night of the soul’ in my upcoming memoir, The Buddha at my Table. It happened just two weeks after my husband told me he was leaving me:
It’s 6:00 a.m. on Christmas morning and Jed is the first one awake. I hear him squealing in the living room. He’s seen the Playmobil ark that Dave set up late last night and he’s shouting for April to wake up. I drag myself out of bed to watch them open their gifts. Dave has gotten the boys Ipods and they love them. I take out the pink Ipod I bought for myself and show it to them, saying it’s from Santa. And then I’m done. I’ve been up only a half hour but I go back to bed and sleep until noon. Even then I can’t rouse myself. I call to Dave, asking him to come in. He sits on the bed and I take his hand. My tears have made my face a runny mess and I need a Kleenex. I don’t care.
“How does one person do this to another?” I ask. “I gave you three children. I gave you the most precious gift in the world. Whatever you think of me, I gave you those kids. How could you treat me this way?”
He closes his eyes, rests his chin in his hand, and says nothing. I let go of his hand and roll over.
Soon Logan, Jed, and April come to kiss me goodbye. They’re leaving for Dave’s parents’ house. When the front door closes the house grows very quiet and I wait, strangely detached, to see if this is it for me. Is this the bottom? Can this get worse, and what would that look like? As it turns out, the afternoon looks like an afternoon, neither blessed nor cursed. I drink some orange juice. I take a shower. I breathe a word of thanks that I have somewhere to go. The neighbors have invited me to dinner, so at 4:30 I walk down the block, my footsteps silent in the gentle snow. It’s dark already and lights are glowing, strings of icicle lights that I used to think were the very glow of happiness. Now I assume nothing. Does this count as a Christmas gift?
I share these stories not to dwell on or to glorify hardships, but to acknowledge the courage it takes to admit that sometimes we’re all stumbling sightless through our lives, and that this too is okay.
The poet Mary Oliver wrote, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too was a gift.”
I’d like to suggest that there are gifts in the loneliness, the free time, the quiet, and the fear that can come with spending the holidays alone.
And to remind you that, no matter what it feels or looks like, you are never really alone. If you start to feel afraid of the dark, remember that, in the words of Robert Adams, within you is the light of a thousand suns.