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Dreaming of a Dark Christmas

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I am one of the folks who love Christmas. I am not particularly sentimental, nor am I into elaborate decorating or gift-giving. I just like the music and the general shift in mood that seems to come with the season. I recognize, however, that not everyone is 'happy' around Christmas time. This is the season for lots of 'relapses' in 12-Step programs, a 'blip' in suicides, and (of course) the usual problems associated with too many parties and too much alcohol. Whatever the reasons, there is definitely a dark side to Christmas.

As I've grown older, I see more clearly how difficult this time of year can be for many people. For many families, Christmas is about children and Baby Jesus. But for some, there is a sense of failure and defeat in not having enough to participate in the economic gift-giving juggernaut: for others, a kind of reactivation associated with family reunions and memories of Christmas past. Some experience a kind of generic depression associated with too many people trying to be 'joyful'. And those who are living alone, in hospital or on the street can feel even more isolated and lonely during this supposedly festive time.

I am trying to pay attention to these folks this year. I am determined to not overpower them with Christmas "cheer", but to stop, listen and let them know that I understand this season isn't easy for everyone. I want to practice Compassion with all the people who are shut in, shut out or -- like the little match girl peering through the window -- are watching those of us with jobs celebrating.

Most of the people I am thinking about don't need or want a 'Christmas basket'. Receiving such a gift, even given with the best of intentions, may not necessarily bring happiness to those of us who aren't so 'up', who cannot afford to 'reciprocate', who are alone or trying to hide until the season passes. A few years ago, I realized that, more than anything, these people just want good conversation and someone to acknowledge them, to recognize and appreciate them and to let them know they are loved as they are (and that they don't have to apologize for not being able to afford a tree or give a gift).

I started acting on this a few years ago and have grown to appreciate that something magical can happen when we are in conversation -- no matter where we are, who we are with or what our circumstances are. The more we listen, the more we give and receive love, the better we all feel and the happier Christmas (or any day) can be for everyone we encounter.

I have been talking about Eldering™ as a new way of practicing growing older for a number of years now. Maybe we can open our hearts this season and focus on spending time really listening and speaking with others. Perhaps this season could be about grandparents and grandchildren, about relationships between young and old (of any age) and about being there for the people in our community.

Let us celebrate this Christmas and include everyone -- with no one left out.

© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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