Finding Light at the Darkest Time of the Year

It was in the parking lot of the tree farm that I watched my son’s little feet walk ahead of me and thought to myself, this is what it feels like to get what you want. My whole world wrapped up in two people: my husband prepping the truck for the tree, and our son’s mitten-free hands reaching out for fir branches and pebbles. My son, a toddler, finds the small things that would go unnoticed, and in turn my life has become a series of minutes where something incredible happens. Over and over, for a year and a half, discovery, delight, repeat.

I do not take these things, these feelings for granted.

The holidays have always been fraught for me, as a person prone to what we call “the glooms,” a persistent darkness looming over this time of year.

Two years ago I struggled even more as the dark season approached while I was also contending with the hormonal shifts of pregnancy. On a holiday trip to Europe in my second trimester, we stopped over in Iceland, with just five hours of daylight. “This is not a good country for you,” my husband observed. I felt myself wilting even as the tiny thrill of the first kicks from the baby flickered through me.

Pregnancy is its own magic, but not the wondrous sleight of hand variety. When you’re the person growing a person, you see the flashes of coins and the hitch where the dove is hidden in the coat. You’re the keeper of the secret but the knowledge is heavy. I didn’t enjoy being pregnant until I was far enough along to worry a bit less. Christmas that year was equal parts marveling at those fluttery movements as it was trying to hold onto hope that at that time next year we’d have a healthy baby. I would look at the holiday lights with feelings of anticipation, my own personal advent.

But the stakes feel higher now than they used to, and any moment where I operate at less than my best self feels like a betrayal of my young son. Several weeks ago I found myself at the therapist’s office, struggling. How do I cope with all I’ve been given when so many around me have so little?

While the answer to that question remains out of reach, I did come to a conclusion as I puzzled through my thoughts. Since our son was born there has been a reintroduction of something into our lives, and that something is wonder.

Before he was born, my husband and I had each other, and our house, and a dog, and the life we were carving out. We were happy. But until our son came along, there was no sense of awe in my day, no moments where I was struck, as I am now, by joy that billows out of my chest like air, or maybe more like light. Too bright to be contained.

The best times are when he says or does something for the first time when my husband and I both are there to witness it and we look at each other in shock and surprise, and yes, joy. A million tiny miracles have happened in the two years since the Christmas I spent pregnant with him. I watch them every day, and I pull my son in close and try to memorize the feel of his weight when he plunks his body into my lap and hands me a book.

But for all of these astonishing moments in my life, since he was born I have sometimes felt like a raw nerve, as if all of my emotions have been turned on too high. I’ve always run this way, experiencing life like this to some extent. Now it seems to be in overdrive: The news cleaves me, the experiences of other people elbowing their way into my heart and sitting there with me, taking away some of my oxygen.

I do what I can to volunteer, to donate to help those who have less, whether in possessions or access to opportunities. Wracked with anguish over family separations, I hosted a charity 5K to raise money for refugees and immigrants, pushing my son in a jogging stroller, his easy closeness a contrast to those who are bereft.

In order to experience what feels like literal magic in raising my son, seeing him develop and call out and hug and love, it felt as if my awareness of the darkness had to increase, a price I had to pay.

In much the same way, to experience December, its lights and its warmth and what has always felt like an anointed time of year, we have to reach the darkest day. We pay for the most special time by wading directly into the night, even if we’re gripping tiny mittened hands in ours.

Finding the midpoint between extremes has never been my strong suit. In high school I wrote down a J.D. Salinger quote in my notebook: “I can’t be running back and forth forever between grief and high delight.” Sorry teenage me — you can be.

So I try to embrace this time of year when everything is shining and bright, our home a beacon lit against the deepest December darks.

Winter is ahead, literally and metaphorically, dormant times and difficult weeks and dark moments I cannot fully picture now.

But I am trying my best to live in the moment and take in the wonder, joy and awe for the true gifts that they are. To be able to face the darkness and also choose to turn to the glow of light.

Erinn Salge is a writer and librarian who is working on a novel.

Source: Read Full Article