My Holiday Wish

December 14, 2014 in Inside SWS

Last Sunday’s New York Times remains neatly stacked on the table, unread. The laundry basket is overflowing, with both clean and “less clean” clothing. I am sending more emails that begin with, “I’m sorry to have to cancel our meeting…” My calendar and to-do list are filling by the minute. It’s the holiday season, for sure.

More than one faculty member has brought to our circle the concern about how much we are asking of ourselves and our families during this three-week sprint between Thanksgiving and winter break. Advent Spirals, Winter Faire, music concerts, Santa Lucia, the Shepherds’ Play – all meaningful celebrations during this time of darkness, in preparation for the gradual return of the light and lengthening days. Yet I am puzzled by the irony of our actions. The period we intend to be one of introspection and quiet reverence instead becomes a frenzy of events, shopping, and late nights. Every year I pledge that the following one will be different – I will slow it down, do less and cut back. And here I am again, trying to figure out what I – and what we – can possibly let go of.

In November (before the holiday madness began in earnest) I read a thought-provoking blog post on The Disease of Being Busy, written by Omid Safi, Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. In it he posed questions such as, “How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?” He goes on to warn, “This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and well being. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.”

Safi doesn’t offer any answers, but calls on us to have the structural conversation about how to live the examined life – one where we explore, in Yeat’s words, “the dark corners of your own soul.” Safi pleads that we need a different model, one where “kids are dirty, messy and bored – learning to become human. I want us to have a kind of existence where we can pause, look each other in the eye, touch one another, and inquire together: Here is how my heart is doing?”

Back to the irony I noted earlier. The majority of events spilling over from my calendar this month are rooted in community and a desire to connect with people I care about. The annual Christmas lunch with old friends, ice-skating with my daughters, finding just the right gift for each family member – and suddenly life has spun out of control. I am arriving late, rushing to the next thing, looking tired (according to others), yet when asked how I am doing I answer perkily, “Great! Just really busy!” As if in a Woody Allen movie, a voice in my head whispers, “I am exhausted and just want some time for myself.”

Like Safi, I can’t offer any magic solutions. But I can bring the questions and hopefully start the conversation, both in my life and in our community. Surely there is a way back to the world that Safi describes “where we sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill in.”

I am reminded of a holiday tradition when I was growing up. On Christmas morning we were not allowed to enter the room where the tree (and presents!) were until after my father had showered, shaved and dressed for the day. I remember like yesterday sitting on the edge of the tub, pleading with him to hurry up, while he slowly stroked his cheeks with the razor for what felt an interminably long time. He would share a story or two about his childhood holidays, and eventually we would make our way downstairs to begin the long-awaited unwrapping of gifts. There is a reason I carry this image with me fifty years later. I was sitting with someone I loved, having slow conversations, from our hearts.

My wish in coming weeks is to allow myself to be truly present in the moment, with my children, family and friends. To sink deeply into those celebrations and relationships that are most important, and let go of the rest. Hopefully when someone asks me, “How are you doing?” I will respond, “I am not doing. I am being.”

Blessings to all, and may you enjoy many slow conversations, from the heart!


Published in the Connection from 12/12/14.