I packed up Christmas early this year. Unhooked the ornaments from the tree, took the jingly wooden Santa off the doorknob, removed my daughter’s stained-glass Christmas tree, the one she made in middle school, from its special spot in the kitchen window over the sink. I stored the mementos, glass bulbs, and Christmas lights neatly in the basement, with the kind of efficiency I often attribute to spring cleaning or washing my car. Things I have to do, but offer little pleasure, so I do them as quickly as possible.
I didn’t even spend much time decorating the tree this year. My daughter did it for me, one snowy afternoon while I was napping on the couch. I would have been happy to help, but I’m glad she took over this year. My heart was not into it. It wasn’t my only festive absence. The nutcrackers that usually adorn my mantel stayed stashed in plastic bins. One small, half-dying poinsettia sat on my dining room table. The season just seemed flat, like champagne without a tight cork, promising a celebratory zeal but delivering something far less.
I knew in early December, as I put tiny wreaths on the front windows of my house, that I was searching for the Christmas spirit and coming up short. I tried to rally. I wrapped presents with sparklier bows. I gave to more charitable organizations. I emptied my pockets for the grocery-store bell ringers. I handed out homemade Christmas cookies to a wider variety of neighbors and friends. I soaked in the anticipation of the two little girls who live across the street as they counted down to Christmas day with glistening eyes.
But the fact remains: Despite a year filled with good health and relative happiness, 2017 is a year that I can’t wait to leave behind. I have no real grievances to count. Not like my junior year in high school when my Mom came home from the hospital on Christmas Eve with a fresh mastectomy, and I was terrified she might die. Not like the Christmas that I had to tell my daughter that her father and I were divorcing after 26 years of marriage. And certainly not like when our family was forced to stare down the holidays the first year after my ex-husband’s suicide.
Which is a long way of saying, I’ve had far worse years. In strict accounting terms, 2017 wasn’t half bad. I stuck to a better diet and lost weight. I shared a long lazy week on Lake Ontario with my extended family and they are all healthy and well. My niece and her husband are expecting a baby, the first in that generation, and our family is ecstatic about the new arrival. I traveled more than usual to visit friends. I dodged numerous layoffs at the company I work for, and a new tax bill promises to leave more money in my paycheck next year.
And still the uneasiness remains. It permeates my consciousness like the subzero cold that has gripped Northern New England this holiday season. I can’t warm to the chill. And this chill is multi-pronged: emotional, psychological, maybe even spiritual.
I feel like I’m in mourning, and I can’t quite shake it. Because despite my wanting to close the door on 2017, I fear that 2018 won’t be a whole lot different. Celebrating the new year feels like a hoax. We’ll still be living in a polarized American society in which it’s difficult to have honest conversations about what really matters to us. And we’ll still be led by a man who is crass and unpredictable and lacks the moral authority that the position demands.
Worse yet, I can’t share this deep distress with virtually half the nation because they simply don’t see things the way I do. Where they see smaller government, I see the cementing of the haves and have-nots. Where they see regulatory reforms that help businesses prosper, I see an assault on our environment and citizen protections. Where they see fake news, I see the last, best hope for truth in a civilized society. I pray that we can at least agree on the inappropriate behavior of the man in the oval office when he berates and belittles anyone he choses with a quick tweet.
Hours from the new year, I’m still searching for the spirit of the season. To believe. To have faith. I want to breathe it in deeply as sustenance against the onslaught of the frantic, uncertain governance that marked 2017 and will likely launch 2018.
Mine is a simple quest for unity, not of policies, but of the national spirit. This usually requires a leader who knows how to—and wants to—unite his people. In lieu of this, we are left with a humbling responsibility as individual citizens: to know when to listen and when to speak up in the service of essential discourse that arcs toward peace.
As the holiday season winds down with no real respite to the ongoing agitation in sight, I feel depleted. And yet I look to the future with what loosely resembles hope. Because it’s human … and daunting … and frightening … and necessary.
It's a new year. Anything is possible.