Have yourself a guilty little Christmas

On December 28, 2010 by Eden M. Kennedy

I spent a deliberate amount of time this holiday season thinking about how to be grateful. I was trying to get beyond, “We’re so lucky to have heat and jobs and three kinds of cheese and cable TV.” We are incredibly lucky to have all those things this year, but I was hoping to get below that, to dig underneath the stuff and find something less (and thus, I suppose, more) tangible.

I didn’t completely succeed. I succeeded enough to conclude that I am a Hard Nut to Crack. Earlier this year I was fortunate to spent some time up at the White Lotus. I talked and laughed and did yoga and jumped into a pool of freezing-cold water and then fell into the hot tub with all my clothes on. I sang and I was silent and I breathed and I wept and when I was done I had sudden, unexpected, overwhelming sense of how lucky I am simply to be who I am. I felt like my whole being was a throat, like I was a strange but uniquely shaped instrument that words flowed through, and I wasn’t the origin of the words, but my shape shaped the words and I was so lucky to have this particular shape so that these particular words could come out in this particular way.

I imagine there’s probably a drug you could take that would lead to a similar realization, but instead I chose to let moving and breathing and whatnot do their hammering at me and voilà! They cracked me open, but now, only a couple of months later, I’ve simply grown a brand-new candy-coated shell to protect my insides from the outside world. I feel like a snail or a hermit crab or a small animal with bad eyes that hates the sun.

So it wasn’t gratitude that swelled up and flopped over my belt this holiday season. (Yes, I may have eaten seven pounds of Christmas cookies last week. What are you implying?)

Instead, having missed the gratitude train, I hopped on the bus to feeling disgustingly overprivileged. Vilely comfortable. People the world over are living on beans and covering themselves with tarps, yet we have not just warmth but firelight, and not just cable but Netflix, and my son has a radio-controlled helicopter that it took a small group of neighbors to rescue from the roof of a nearby garage. We have stuff and friendly people who help us recover our stuff! And we’re all alive and riotously healthy. Except for the hamster, who’s still in the freezer. (Poor Wheelie, waiting for the ground to dry out before he can R.I.P.)

A friend who volunteers at a shelter told me a terrible story about a man who came to Christmas dinner there last Saturday. There was no bus service on Christmas Day in Santa Barbara. As a result, people who don’t have cars had to hitch a ride or hoof it, as did one particular man who walked from Highway 154 to the Unitarian Church so he could have dinner. It’s about 4 miles, or a ten-minute drive. A healthy person could walk it in less than an hour. On crutches (the man was on crutches because of his foot cancer), it did not take ten minutes, it took roughly eight hours.

After doing all that work for a delicious meal and a warm bed, he could probably teach a doctoral-level course in gratitude.

I don’t know what you’re supposed to conclude from all this. I was feeling pretty rotten because on Christmas Eve I discovered that a good friend had died in 2009 without me hearing about it, someone I’d lost touch with but had fond feelings for all the same. I’m suddenly feeling like everyone’s dying and it’s all happening before I’ve finished loving them. Goddamnit!

Here are two beings who love each other with all their hearts.



29 Responses to “Have yourself a guilty little Christmas”

  • I’m in the mood right now to conclude about the guy with foot cancer that earth is a hell and it will get me eventually too. It’s only a matter of time.

    In a certain frame of mind human existence seems a cruel joke and I can’t be grateful when any sentient being–especially one so exquisitely capable of suffering–is forced to endure this empty journey into death.

    This perspective might be called my gratitude barrier.

    (Other times I’m grateful for just about everything. Marshmallows in my cocoa, you name it.)

    Anyway, Merry Christmas!

  • Did no one see this poor man walking and stop to see if he wanted a ride somewhere? Or are we all afraid serial killers can even be on crutches these days.

    Clearly I have no answers.

  • Yeah, I hear this. A young woman was murdered down the hall in my apartment building on the evening of the 23rd and I spent that whole night bringing coffee and bathroom privileges to her family and the first responders. It made dealing with the crazy in-law Christmas Eve stuff (in the fancy house in the fancy suburb with 3 kinds of green beans and their impending next-day trip to Vail for the holidays) a little more difficult than usual. Effin’ effers.

  • I love you Eden!

  • Thank you so much, Ann, I hope I see you soon! Everybody else: sorry for the downer post! Help!

  • While I was reading this, my 13-year-old walked up to me and said, “Sometimes when you smell something that no one else is smelling, you’re really just smelling the inside of your own nose.” I think that says it all, really. Take that, Tao Te Ching!

  • Well, I guess I can be grateful that even though my car takes 30 minutes to warm up enough to get into a gear which would allow it to go somewhere (no matter how warm or cold out), my tire died last week (and I found out my spare was dead too), we ate 88 cent frozen dinners for Xmas, and I got $600 for Xmas which was immediately spent on the phone/internet bill (and some past due parts of it) because they were going to shut it off, a new (used) tire, and a vet bill for a cat in renal failure who is now on subq fluids and multiple meds…I am not on crutches w/ foot cancer, walking because my city doesn’t provide public transit on a holiday (which is stupid in my opinion – I’m sure there are people willing to work for overtime pay), although my city doesn’t have public transit at all, so I’m totally screwed one day when my car decides not to go anywhere after its thirty minute warmup.

    It’s good to know that even people with crappy lives can feel grateful that their lives aren’t any crappier. Oh, and I kind of like the 88 cent meals, especially the peas. I do not like it that every single time (these days…I used to have a fairly comfortable middle class existence before losing, oh, almost everything of material value) I manage to get a tiny bit ahead, small catastrophes strike. However, I have good friends, a good partner, an internet connection, and lots of furry & feathered beasts to love, so I feel really awful for the dude on crutches. And, I feel even worse for the family/friends of the person who was murdered on the 23rd. Ugh. It’s not so great even living down the hall from someone who was murdered. I hope it was at least someone who knew her, because while that’s awful, it’s at least a whole lot less scary for the neighbors.

    And…I would rather eat my 88 cent meals than be this grotesque glutton – http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/this-is-what-the-worlds-fattest-woman-ate-for-chr (sorry, my partner was reading it while I was writing and I was so horrified that I had to post it)

  • I’m really sorry things are so hard for you right now. Being at that place where you have no cushion, where small setbacks become intractable disasters, is awful and draining.

  • It’s the transition into the New Year. Change causes suffering; we both fear and crave change. The New brings the possibility for change (note: possibility). I tend to get the mean reds this time of year. I feel guilty for the charities I didn’t do when I should be OK with doing the small amount that I could do. This year I feel really guilty for not getting my husband anything for Christmas (we had said no presents this year!) when he got me the new camera I’ve been wanting for almost a year now.

    But it’s just as easy to flip all that like a coin and instead say “I am thankful that I had what I had to give”, “I am thankful that my husband is so thoughtful”. I am thankful for the possibility of change.

    And I don’t know why that comment suddenly just droned on and on and on. Sorry. Things will be brighter for you tomorrow.

  • Thank you, Cindy, that was wonderful.

  • I could not care less that it was a downer post. I love the realness of it. And I am so moved by the idea of you seeing your self as a throat. And equally moved by the idea that holding on to that feeling is fucking hard and elusive. Self love is so very easy for me to talk about, but so completely impossible for me to do for more than a few minutes, perhaps a few days. I am not glad for the place you find yourself now, but I am glad—for myself—to not be alone in my inability to “get it” and keep it. Wow. There’s no way for me to read that sentence and not read myself as a selfish ass. I guess this is a longwinded way of saying, I think I know exactly how you feel.

  • I see a lot of overprivilege in London, and it only really upsets me when those who have it are assholes. It’s okay to have three kinds of cheese and be a kind person too.

  • Yolanda, you don’t sound like a selfish ass at all. I think you hit on something — something about the flip side of self-love being self-ish, but only self-love can be used one to extend our love and gratitude beyond ourselves to others.

    Antonia, that was the perfect observation.

  • My Christmas was pretty “stingy” also, not for all the reasons you’ve discussed but we share some common ground. Here’s hoping you have a great New Year.

  • You said the words I have been searching for forever. “Everyone is dying before I have finished loving them.”

    Thank you.


  • I actually really NEEDED to read this post and comments today. I am grateful for my Internet connection and all y’all. All the best in possibilities in 2011. xo

  • I’m grateful for you, Eden. Your unique voice adds an exotically spicy perspective in my life and to my view of the world… that would be just that little bit more bland without you. I’ve been reading your blog for years although not often commenting. But I always, always love it. And even when you don’t write for a long, long time, I know you will eventually, so I always check. And maybe I’ll even get to hear from Peanut. Or The Hulk.

    I’m grateful for lots of things, including you Eden. And most of your readers/commenters, too. Not many people are so authentic and sensitive in a non-sappy way.

    Sometimes when people ask me how I am, I say that I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do. I don’t have foot cancer and I don’t have to walk on crutches for a hot meal and a bed. I have more than most and I’m intensely grateful for all of it. But that doesn’t mean nothing ever chafes… that just wouldn’t be human, I think.

  • I found you via another excellent writer I enjoy. Thanks for the thoughts and the sentiments.

  • I didn’t think it was a downer at all. And: Happy New Year!

  • I liked your post, Eden. No worries about being a downer. I’m grateful for you!

    I think maybe we don’t really know who to be sorry for — maybe the guy who walked eight hours was pretty content while he was doing it because he was looking forward to his destination and maybe the people who were about to go skiing in Vail hate each other and think life holds no meaning.

    BTW, I would love to send Anonymous4This a small New Year’s gift.

  • I hope I didn’t sound flip about the guy with foot cancer, as the odds are good that actually did suck. But I was thinking of a girl in a developing country who had to crawl to school because she didn’t have a wheelchair, and she sounded pretty upbeat.

  • i’m lucky. not cushy, but lucky. rung in the new year babysitting my 6 month old granddaughter. melancholy earlier in the week – local writer chose the story of a local kiddo who died @ 4 months old as his top story of the year. sad & detailed, that baby slipped out of the world 1 day before our bundle slipped in. again, lucky.

    listening to renee stahl. chili cooking for dinner. happy hopes for 2011.

    i appreciate your writing. :)

  • Like you, I am overwhelmed with gratitiude. I have a job, I have a warm house & healthy family. And I live in fear of losing it, so much that I grab onto everything with both hands and don’t let go. Yoga helps, with that unattachment stuff – too bad yoga tends to cost so much :(

  • Oh, and this post wouldn’t read in my reader for days, and I thought maybe it was one that you had written and deleted. I’m so, so, so glad that wasn’t the case.

  • Last year around this time I was a few week’s graduated with my MBA and got laid off (no fun). I was so grateful when the holiday season rolled around and I did not have final exams to worry about and also had a secure job.

    That’s probably why I had a great holiday season despite family drama! I was just so relieved and grateful.

    P.S. Where I live someone would have given the foot cancer guy a ride if he had asked. Not sure what it’s like though where he lives.

  • it felt good this year to give abundantly, and know that it was because my own needs were met. last year i couldn’t help feeling poverty-stricken and pathetic because i couldn’t even afford stamps to send out christmas cards. life ebbs and flows that way, and it’s best (i’ve learned) to give with the flow and trust that when it ebbs, there will be provision. so far, it’s worked out pretty well.