“It feels lighter. The lightest it’s been in three years.”
I’m remarking on the holiday season to my husband during a car ride through the small towns of New Hampshire. It’s the Friday after Thanksgiving, both of us tired but not emotionally depleted like we had been with previous years. I’m enjoying smooth drive of my husband’s new pick-up truck, the twists and turns of the roads, and the gentle relief of an uneventful Thanksgiving, one that came and went without much fallout — a potential harbinger of an easier time of year.
It’s an unexpected gift — this lightness — after such a heavy November. November had a melancholy to it, its origins I never could exactly pinpoint. There was a somberness in the air, as if a chapter was ending on a cosmic scale and I didn’t exactly know what to do with it.
Throughout the month, Thanksgiving awaited me, not like a finish line, but like an unnerving rumbling on the horizon. I can’t remember the last time the holiday was easy for me, but the day had been given an indelible mark since coming to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving three years ago, witnessing the state my father was in, and, at the end of the night, numbly sitting in my husband’s 2-door coupe, mumbling out, “I think that was my dad’s last Thanksgiving.”
(I’d be proven right within 10 month’s time.)
But Thanksgiving this year came and went without the heaviness of the previous years, to the point that both my husband and I looked around us, wondering if it had actually happened, if we had missed something.
Thanksgiving was light this year, and I could sense it was transferring over to the rest of the holiday season.
I am constantly drawing exhausting and exhaustive sets of parallels — comparing and contrasting this year versus last, versus two years ago, versus three. It’s like I have to see how every action reverberates back and what they do when they meet echoes of the past.
Because of the markedness of the holiday season, the parallels come out in full force. I’ve been documenting the holiday season for three years now, each year bringing with it something loud enough to send sound waves straight into the past.
I think about how the holidays have felt, what they’ve meant, the good and the bad, over the last three years — about the desperation felt one year, the desire to turn my back on what had abandoned me in my hour of need the next, and the gentle hope of the one after that.
This year, it just is. No heavy emotions or baggage attached.
I think about the holiday decorations, how they had become emblems of how nothing was okay one year, anathema during the next, and a beacon of reconstruction the year after that. Each year, something as simple as ornaments carried a heaviness that should’ve snapped the branches and brought down the tree.
This year, I’m just wondering where I can carve out the time for decorations in the midst of plans, preparations, work, and friends.
There is a lightness, in it and in myself. It’s as if I’m floating above the holiday season, looking down at what I see but not getting tangled up. Appreciating what’s around me but not drowning in it.
If the previous years were loud enough to send sound waves back, then this year is the equivalent of a whisper.
I don’t seek out Christmas music like it’s my path to salvation, nor do I avoid it for fear of what it would bring. It’s just there, existing alongside me. I find myself absently singing along to them in the grocery store, decked out in leggings that one of my students told me makes me look like a Christmas gift. The Christmas spirit has come in the form of a wisp, not a ghoul.
There is a lightness to it all, and — just like November’s heaviness — I don’t know what to do with it.
At some point, you’ll have to stop doing this. At some point, the retrospectives must be put to rest. It’s my first thought as I start comparing the holiday seasons — comparing life in general — between now, and last year, and two years ago, and three.
I give myself credit where credit is due: retrospectives are how I connect the dots, how I make sure I don’t make the same mistakes again, how I chart my progress. It is a godsend when I’m in the thick of suffering. But, by the same token, I also tend to not know what to do when things are good and the suffering is gone. I instead look back and dig up old hurts for the sake of digging them up, under the guise of proving how far I’ve come, how much better off I am today than I was even a year ago.
It’s almost like I’m acting on a fear of things being light.
It’s almost as if the heaviness of November — the somberness of something finishing on a scale I could not even begin to fathom — was heavy not because of the content, but because there was nothing to weigh it down anymore.
There’s an Anais Nin’s quote I’ve been repeating for over a year now — one that resonated in ripples and waves when I finally took back control of my life: I wept because I lost my pain and I’m not yet accustomed to its absence.
It’s been a wild couple of years, and the upheaval can be documented like rings inside a tree. And the retrospectives do add a richness to everything — a reminder of the peaks and valleys of life and how beautiful it all can look in the rearview mirror. But sometimes you’re just putting up decorations because they’re pretty, singing a Christmas ditty because it’s catchy, making plans to see family and friends because it’s that time of year. Sometimes you’re just on car rides through small towns, gazing at Christmas lights, mumbling something about buying presents as part of your growing to-do list. Sometimes you can let the baggage sit by the sidelines and enjoy the path in its current state.
Sometimes you can enjoy everything as the sweet whispers do their own echoing out — sometimes you can appreciate it without wondering if they’ll ripple one way or the other. Sometimes they’re just something to hum along with amongst the other sights and sounds.
Sometimes, you can just let things be light.