15 December 2017

#Prejudice !Pain &Perspective @Christmas

José y Maria

Christmas.  That sacred holiday, where, if but for a moment, time seems to stop and the world has a moment of peace, quiet, and joy.  The time of year when many people celebrate, give gifts to one another, and in general seem happier and more filled with gratitude and generosity.  For much of the country, Nature has begun her long Winter’s nap, and even the city seems quiet at times, especially when the snow falls and covers over the blemishes of this urban inner-city environment.  This is the season of light and a time to revel in family, friends, and the simplicity of things.  This, I know, is the experience of many.  It was once mine as well.  Then life happened…

As I’ve said here before, life has a way of teaching you hard lessons you never wanted to learn.  It does not allow you to deal with things as you wish them to be, but rather, as they are and in the moment that they happen.  Growing up, the holidays (as Thanksgiving and Christmas are often referred to here) were joyous occasions, where I would look forward to seeing friends and family and, naturally, the joy of opening gifts that had been picked, purchased, and wrapped just for me.  I grew up in a “normal”, small town, white Christian home and family, with parents who were still married and loved each other and my brother and I, and enough food, faith, friends and family to go around.  While we certainly were never wealthy, and even at times very poor, we never wanted for anything.  Food was always on the table, gifts were always under the tree, and all was magic and joy at Christmas.  I grew up, got married, and began my own family, with dreams and expectations galore, and with my wife’s upbringing being somewhat similar to mine, we made our plans.  Even as a newly married adult, I struggled to understand those who did not feel this way about Christmas, and was absolutely prejudiced against those who didn’t seem to “get it” and grasp what this great Feast was all about, my own friends included.  Then life happened…

The years went by, and my beloved and I struggled to have our own children.  Despite being told nothing was wrong with us, it never seemed to happen.  Slowly we gave up hope, and slowly the holidays became a time of sorrow and grief for us.  As others would go on with their lives and their families, with children and presents under the tree, we had each other, and while it was enough, we still longed for little ones to share it with.  Then 3 beautiful wonders came to live with us, and suddenly our home was full.  Light and laughter and joy, not without struggle, came to rest under our roof, and all was right with the world.  Holidays were merry and bright again and we were filled to the brim with happiness.  We spent 3 years together forming our own unique family, as broken and different as it was, but it was enough.  Then it came time for our dear ones to return to their own mother, because, as we knew from the beginning, we were on borrowed time.  That first Christmas without them was excruciating, and we again knew loneliness and the grief of being without them, in a big country home, alone, as the cold and cruel Winter winds howled and seemed to mock our despair.  Then came the unexpected news the following Summer that we had somehow conceived our own son, and we became excited and began to dream of the days and Christmases to come.  Then life happened…

We lost Aidan in September of 2011, and, coupled with missing our Godchildren that had lived with us, that following Christmas became the hardest of our married lives.  As the picture of gravestones here depicts, my brother and sister-in-law also lost 3 little ones the next 3 years in a row. 4 years…4 deaths…4 holidays spent wanting things to be different.  But there would be no relief; only mourning and lamentation and wounds that would never fully heal.  Each Christmas since then has been fine – good even – but never the same.  Over time, we began to heal and slowly find joy in the days again, but around the holidays, we always felt the pang of grief and loss in our hearts, and still do to this day.  However, as much as this longing still burns in us, we had a waking moment (or rather several) where we realized that, despite our good upbringing that had filled us with light and joy, our newfound and lasting pain made us intimately aware that Christmas and the holidays were not only difficult for us, they were difficult for a lot of others as well.  We suddenly began to notice people who found this time of year to be, not a celebration, but a labor to fit in, to endure, and to try to find joy in what had become a dark and depressing season.  The poor refugees and immigrants who had fled their homeland and all that they knew, and loved, to find peace in a new and foreign land (much like the modern painting of Joseph and Mary above depicts), the outcast and the homeless who had no family left to visit and no children to care for, the barren and broken who shared our own grief, and all those who had been broken on the wheels of living.  The very people who I used to think didn’t “get it”, I now counted as fellow siblings on the way, and realized they got it much more than I ever imagined.

In some ways, while I would never have chosen what has happened to us, our pain has given us a great amount of perspective on what others go through and endure during the holidays, and with that, a level of compassion (meaning, literally, “to suffer with”) that we had not before known.  These holiday times that are supposed to be “merry and bright” are often filled with only momentary glimpses of such things, and frequently with times of deep grief and sadness.  Perspective is an important thing.  It takes all the ideals one is raised to believe in and tests them against reality and experience, and leaves you with the question, “What do I do now?”  I can choose to become bitter and angry, or I can choose to do something else with this pain.  In the end, really, it’s all about choice – what do I do with the cards I’ve been dealt?  How do I go on with my life when I’ve been dealt a difficult hand?  This, I think, is also one of the paradoxes and the bright sadness of the Christmas season, if you are open to seeing it.  The Divine is born into squalor and animal feces, wrapped in dirty rags, and with no triumphal announcement.  Pain would follow him and those who loved him, all of his life.  And yet, knowing this pain and exclusion and “otherness”, he chose it anyway.  What else are we to do given this example?  While the holidays bring pain and grief to my wife and I, they also are still filled with joy and light.  How could it be otherwise?  We will forever mourn the loss of our son and the family we made with 3 of our Godchildren, and we will also forever feel the love of those around us, and in turn, we will try to bring perspective and drop all prejudice, letting our pain transform us into Light for others who may find themselves lost and wandering at Christmastime.  I hope you will do likewise.  The holidays are not the same for everyone, but they are an opportunity to love and be kind and provide comfort to all who mourn. For indeed, whether you believe it to be just a nice story or the Living Truth, the message of the season is the same; great pain and grief, when entered into and transformed, always bring life and healing to those in need.  It truly is a matter of perspective.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Rumi that has changed me and helps me during the dark times…I hope you find help and life in it as well, whether you find yourself broken and longing or otherwise this season.  Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Holidays, and may all light, life, joy, and wonder be yours this season!

"Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life's search for love and wisdom."
Missouri Botanical Gardens Fall 2017
“Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.” -Rumi

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Posted 15 December, 2017 by Luke Beecham in category "General


  1. By Tamar Finchum on

    Thank you for your vulnerability and heart. You are both such a model of incarnate love. Memory Eternal to Aiden. <3

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