A reindeer lines up outside 10 Downing Street as a party is hosted for children on Dec. 17, 2012, in London, England. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
This Christmas Day, let’s all give ourselves the gift of presence.
No, that’s not a misspelling of “presents.” I mean presence, our existence in this moment. Ourselves being ourselves, ignoring technological bubbles and alternate realities. On this one day of the year, let’s commit to being right here, right now, no matter what.
Perhaps this is a joyous occasion for you. You’re lounging comfortably at home, surrounded by family and friends. You might have already opened gifts with the grandchildren this morning and are enjoying a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll. Being a Kansan, you might even enjoy chili with that cinnamon roll for lunch. Enjoying the moment, being in the now, seems pleasant and easy.
If that’s the case, Merry Christmas. Seize the joyous instant. Revel in it, even.
A mournful day
Perhaps your Christmas Day isn’t like that. Perhaps you mourn on this day, remembering departed friends or loved ones. Perhaps you don’t celebrate much, and fears of the future crowd your imagination. Christmas can focus the mind like no other holiday on our griefs and grievances — it’s no coincidence that so many Christmas songs are bittersweet, or that Scrooges and Grinches dominate holiday fiction.
“What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer?” grouched Ebeneezer to his nephew, and I’ve always suspected he had a point.
If you see the season that way, I’m not going to say cheer up or feel better. I’ve been there, and I know how little good it does.
But find a moment today, if you can, to be at one with your thoughts, however mournful. They aren’t wrong or bad. They, like you, are valid and present.
A distracted day
There’s a third group of folks out there, a group I suspect includes many of us. We live only partially in the now. We’re scrolling through our phones or watching a new series on a streaming service or pining for alternate realities. So many of us persist in this liminal state, neither here nor there, neither awake nor asleep. To use a pop culture comparison that’s once again relevant, we’re in the Matrix, fleshy bodies supplied with calories as our brains process a never ending stream of content for content’s sake.
Why would we do so? It’s easy to explain.
The last couple of years have been difficult in a way that no one could have imagined in December 2020. (The last decade hasn’t been that great, honestly.) We’ve faced a once-in-a-century pandemic, not with unified purpose, but with politicized rhetoric. A bit less than a year ago, on Jan. 6, we watched our democracy teeter on the brink of extinction.
And hey, did anyone notice Kansas saw temperatures in the 70s and extreme wind and wildfires this month? Sure seems like we missed a chance to do something about the climate, doesn’t it? It’s enough to drive even the most cold-hearted realist to reruns of the Bachelor. A tropical island might offer respite, as long as it’s not already underwater.
So many of us want escape, and we want it yesterday.
A present day
We can’t avoid reality indefinitely, though. No problems will be solved by sticking our heads in the sand or avoiding the challenges surrounding us.
We are who we are, and our world is what it is. Rather than being overwhelmed by it, we can take the opportunity afforded by this holiday to embrace the now. Shut off the metaverse, for only a few minutes. Put down the phone, turn off the flatscreen, stop composing social media posts in your head. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and pause.
The past, after all, exists only as memories. The future exists only as imagined potential. The only time that exists for certain is the present. The same is true for all of us. Our earthly lives are surrounded on either side by infinite darkness. For a brief moment, we’re here with those we know and love.
Maybe that’s sad. Maybe it’s amazing.
Like Christmas, it depends on your perspective.
For better or worse, for good or ill, we are here this Christmas Day. Enjoy it or endure it, as the case may be. Be with yourself and those you know. Be here in the reality of your life. No one else can experience what you do, today.
Happy holidays, my friends.
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