I woke up to a gray, overcast day, the trees bending in the wind outside my bedroom window, rain spattering against the panes. I’m not a fan of winter in New England, of the lack of light, bitter winds and slate-gray skies. Still, as my brother reminds me each year on my birthday, it beats the alternative. As I write this on December 21, 2012, the day some have claimed signals the end of the world according to the Mayan prophecies, I’m reviewing ‘where I stand’ at 55, and feeling thankful for this holiday season, when my life slows down enough that I can read, write, and chill out while most of my peers are racing around in the frantic prelude to Christmas.
I do feel a bit out of synch –- it seems almost un-American to not partake in the rituals of Christmas, to be unmoved by this national holiday that celebrates beliefs in which I take no part. Still, sometimes I fantasize –- how would it be to have a (nominally) Christian partner, so that I could have the tree, the decorations, the warmth of friends and family without denying my Jewish roots.
And then I realize, once again, that my hunger is not really for Christmas, but for a one-on-one relationship with another man, for the companionship that comes with a significant other during this time of year when stirrings of love, romance, and connection are everywhere. At least that’s how it seems to me, a man looking from the outside in, his nose pressed up against the candy store window. No wonder I used to get depressed during the holidays, when I walked through malls and shopping centers alone, watching couples stroll arm in arm, and then faced the forced frivolity of New Year’s Eve when I rarely, (if ever), had a date.
Maybe it’s the wisdom of middle age, or I’m just tired of fighting reality; my new mantra is, “It is what it is.” I don’t feel particularly bad about not having plans around Christmas. Instead, I feel a sense of relief, knowing that I can make up the holidays as I go along, opting in to some activities, and avoiding others like shopping, stressing about finding the right card, the right gift. In the last decade, I’ve grown more comfortable in my skin, like a large person –- man or woman, who moves with an easy grace, who maneuvers themselves like a wide-bodied airplane.
Maybe wisdom is simply learning to appreciate life as it is, rather than what I want/demand it to be. On my good days, like today, I can simply appreciate the “writing date” I have this afternoon, when I will meet a friend at a local Starbucks, when she and I will write against the background hum of the coffee shop, stringing words together. Today I can look out at this wet, raw day, thankful that I’m here in a warm apartment, my elderly cat curled up by my side.
I look around and see the headlines, hear the news reports of the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and the various other tragedies that hover over us, envelop us like fog, events for which there are no answers. The world can be dangerous, cruel, or kind, depending on one’s circumstances, luck, fate. In my own life, I try to stop and notice the small things -- a good workout at the gym, dinner with a friend, a rare chance to dance –- and savor them like designer chocolate, knowing they are transitory, and can vanish at any moment.
Here I am, at 55, with somewhat less energy, and considerably less time left on this planet than I had in my youth. Still, on this shortest day, when the world will not end, I light a candle in the darkness, and look forward to the new year, and whatever surprises it may bring.