But this time of year also has a way of reminding us of winters past, and marking clearly in our minds what we have lost. Some people are facing their first holidays without a loved one who has died. Others must confront their first holiday after losing their houses to wildfires or natural disaster. Or their first holiday being divorced, broken-up, unemployed, ill, or alone. For many of us, among the losses this year has been the loss of a faith in government, or even a confidence in fundamental public decency. News from many parts of the world is deeply troubling, and for some a sense of certainty or hope has been lost. For many, it has been a rough, painful year.
In this season of list making, I bristle a bit at the idea that a “best of” list has more value than a “worst of” list. More and more as life takes its toll, my idea of optimism is not to “focus on the positive”, but to love, as Zorba the Greek said, “the full catastrophe.”
I think there is a way of looking at loss that can have almost the same result as a gratitude list. It’s a different route to the same destination. Here’s what I mean.
One New Year’s Eve, I was performing in a musical show. Sitting in the dressing room as we applied our make-up, the actress next to me said, “I can’t wait for it to be next year.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because,” she said, studying herself in the glass, “next year will not be the year I got divorced.”
Some events are so challenging, they come to define us. There was before, and after, and we are forever changed. And sometimes, as the year wraps up, we feel as if we will drown in the choppy waves of that change. As with my stage colleague, we may not deny the fact of a horrible event, but we are ready to let go of who we were in the face of it. And there is truth in that. Whatever recovery is yet to come, whatever new trials and tribulations next year will bring, it will not be the year _________ happened.
Sometimes, when tragedy strikes, you have to take it head on, and say look at that horrible, horrible thing that happened. You can’t not dwell on the horribleness of it. It was so, so, horrible, wasn’t it? And in that way, looking at loss can force you to come face to face with something no gratitude list can give you: a realization of your own strength. Because the more horrible the loss, the more strength you summoned. Your losses may have been horrible this year, unthinkable even. But if you’re reading this, you survived them. Yes, you did. And as we say in the theatre, bravo!
This holiday won’t be the same as other years. It just won’t. Will it be happy? Sad? Tiring? Confusing, miraculous, or gratifying? All or none of the above?
I suppose none of us knows.
Whatever it will be, and whatever losses you are facing, I wish you well, for your first holiday without _____________.
and my friend, Frank Poletti.
This was the year we lost them.