Thanksgiving Day came and went, along with a five-day break from work, for which I am most grateful. It’s nice to have time off, unstructured time when I can read, write, or (if I get myself off the couch), hit the gym. Still, the holidays have always been a mixed bag. Back in my twenties –- before I came out –- I’d walk around Northland Mall in Columbus, Ohio watching young couples stroll arm in arm as Christmas muzak played in the background. Watching them, I’d feel a heaviness, a burning envy that sat in my gut like a lump of coal, fed by my knowing I would never have someone to hold my hand, that I was destined to be alone.
I finally came out in 1985, at the age of 28, and moved to Boston a year later. But the holidays didn’t get much easier; I still felt a sense of dislocation as a single gay man without a boyfriend on the horizon. It seemed that the people around me, both gay and straight, had their roles to play –- husband, wife, father, mother, lover --- while I remained restless and unmoored like a boat tossed about in a storm, the ultimate 3rd, 5th or 9th wheel.
After Thanksgiving, the weeks would fly until I was facing Christmas, that great American holiday which I, as a Jew, do not celebrate, and then the forced gaiety of New Year’s Eve, which I found somewhat depressing. The pressure to have a good time, to find a date, to assess my life and promise to do better in the new year left me feeling lost, like an actor in a play, stuck without any good lines.
It has only been in the last ten years that I’ve discovered, (I’ve always been a slow learner and come from a long line of ‘stiff-necked’ Jews) a secret recipe for holiday cheer -- or at least for not slipping into major depression –- which involves playing my holidays ‘by ear,’ without a script or list of ‘have tos.’
Back in the early 2000s, I was living with a roommate in Teele Square, Somerville. Matt was usually at home when he wasn’t teaching his high school classes. Now he was heading off to visit his family in Florida, and I wondered how I’d navigate my time alone, our apartment strangely quiet. As my neighborhood emptied out, as other friends left town to visit with their families and significant others, I braced myself for another round of depression, my typical modus operandi.
But this time, something shifted. I was just starting to write, to view myself as a man who could tell stories. Now, in this silent apartment, I discovered the freedom of writing without interruption. When I got restless or bored, I found the joy of easy parking in Davis Square, of free booths at the Diesel Café, of the slower pace resulting from the annual student exodus on my side of the Charles River.
Those ten days passed quickly –- too quickly –- and soon I was back at work, daydreaming about my next vacation. For me, that was a turning point, of learning to discover the range of possibility offered by the holiday season, of enjoying life outside the box.
Now I hear the words, see the commercials, and listen to the news stories about “Black Friday,” retail sales, and family stress over holiday meals. Thanksgiving has passed, and soon Christmas, New Year’s, and the minor holiday of Chanukah, will too. I’ll be reminded of the holiday I do not celebrate, the significant other I do not have.
But today, in my fifties, with youth no longer on my side, I rarely get depressed. Instead I pause, and remind myself of the benefits, the freedom, the wisdom of approaching the holidays as I approach my life -- just making it up as I go along.