In my household, there were some years the Grinch stole Christmas.
My mother would slip into a mental illness episode, go off her medication, and Christmas was a barren cold day. Expectations of magic never fulfilled.
The bar had already been set high, the year before when I was six. A harvest Christmas with all its magic. Our apartment decorated with a tree and baubles and all manner of sparkly things. Twisted ropes of tinsel hung in every corner. Carols played on my mother’s record player. It was the season of endless presents.
That year I was picked to be in the Christmas play and I remember the anticipation of sneaking up the hidden steps behind the stage; the wonderful cacophony of tuning instruments in the orchestra pit; hushed whispers before the pageant began. I was in wonder all the time.
The rich overlay of cinnamon and pine cone. A cold snap in the California air. I knew I was a child with much to learn, and life seemed to be brimming with unexpected delights, their height seemingly reached at Christmastime.
But the next year, fog drifted in from over the ocean and up against our windows. Dampness hung silently in the winter atmosphere. I sat in a straight back chair at the dining room table and looked out at the bleak landscape. My mother was ill and un-hospitalized. I hoped everything would change on the magic day, but it did not. Our apartment was cold and music-less and presentless.
She was our lifeforce. My father and I depended on her to bring laughter and light and an engagement in life. When she could not, we wilted.
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the annual seasonal program, became a distressing tale. It was almost too much — his evil grinning face, his deftness in his thievery of all Whoville’s reverence and celebration. His delight in snatching their happiness, present after present, decoration after decoration, I found so completely appalling I could barely stand it.
But of course, I could stand it, as I had experienced anti-Christmas a number of times in my childhood. A dark, shadowy footprint of soul poverty, the force that visited my home, stole away my mother’s happiness and doused any hope I kindled in my heart.
When the Grinch came to his senses, I felt such great relief — joy so overwhelming it buoyed me at least for an evening, allowed me to believe a heart could grow beyond its original measure. And goodness could prevail.
When my mother went off her medication it was as though evil prevailed. I knew it was not my mother who had come to live with us then, but some other person who had hidden the good, kind, exuberant woman who had given birth to me.
Of course, I soon realized I was the only one who really understood this, and soon became disappointed with adults who seemed incapable of understanding the obvious fact that the scowling, angry, and often extremely rude person that had taken over my mother’s body was not, in reality, my mother. In my mind, she certainly could not be held accountable for the various words and actions she was exhibiting.
The Grinch was the embodiment of something I understood — that a person could be more than their limitations and that “more” could be powerful enough to change the lives of others, however unlikely such a scenario may have been deemed.
Because of my mother’s creative and gentle nature and on the flip side, her tremendous anti-social behavior and contempt for just about everything, my expectations of the human race, in general, has been expanded. People are not what they seem. Life is not black and white. A simple gesture of kindness can possibly effect multitudes.
One anti-Christmas can haunt a person down through their entire life. For it was that first non-Christmas, its hollow echo in my psyche, that encapsulates all the bad moments of disappointment in my years, of being shut out from love. But just as powerfully, the Christmas before, when my mother’s efforts created such happiness in me, is deliciously palpable to me still.
We are interesting creatures, how we respond to our environments and how we allow the world to inform us about ourselves. Some things we take too much to heart.
Christmas was originally a pagan holiday, a way to honor the return of the sun after weeks and weeks of increasing darkness and cold. Without the sun’s warmth, we are rightly concerned about our well-being. But within each of us, is our own sun. In many cultures, the chakra system notes the solar plexus chakra as yellow, as in a little sun. Our personal power that we can gather or not, wield or not. It is ours and recognized correctly, no one can take it away, the fire that resides in our bellies, in our essence.
The star we revere in the sky and sometimes place at the top of the tree is not so much heralding the birth of something outside of ourselves, but the rebirth of our own will to be. A reminder of our potential, richer in experience and hopefully wiser with each year. A reflection of the hope that waits within us ready to be kindled, waiting to warm us, and to shine.
It took me years to forgive my mother and I am still in the process of forgiving the world for not seeing her and taking care of her properly.
Various emotions percolate. I am aware of their power, and the power I give them if I so choose.
Seeking to take responsibility, I examine at this time of year my own darkness, my own coldness. With the Winter Solstice, I am once again endeavoring to grow and seek more personal power, to live up to my potential and the gifts I’ve been given.
I feel it warming me from the inside out, my own personal coming of the light.
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom.
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