The Beautiful Bowl Is Empty

It happens every year. I guess I thought this one would be different because I’ve worked so hard that maybe I’d just be grateful for the time off. But the minute I wrapped my assignment and walked out of the NY1 studios today—into the cold rain, admittedly—I felt a rush of sadness that I almost never feel except around what we called Christmas break when I was growing up. That feeling when school let out and I would know I was off the grid, unaccounted for and unsought, until the new year. I look forward to that quiet freedom as an adult–count down the days, even. And then when it arrives I feel an overwhelming loneliness. It’s the downside of living in the interstices of everything, even though that’s how I usually like it. It’s a sense of not belonging to anyone but myself—which, again, is something I usually embrace.

This is the only time of year when I wonder if I’m just making lemonade out of really rotten lemons.

Last year I didn’t feel my feelings until I attended a Christmas Eve service at the East Village’s beautiful-hearted Middle Church. There was something about the kind eyes foisted upon me as we passed the flame in the candle-lighting service that did me in. That’s bullshit, actually. From the minute the preacher began her sermon, from the minute we began singing “Silent Night” as a congregation, from the minute that someone recognized me and I felt ashamed about being alone, I was bawling. They weren’t bad tears, mind you. Actually, I think all tears are good tears. It’s useful to feel the sorrow we’re taught to ignore in our culture; otherwise, it leeches into our systems in ways that serves no one.

But this sadness was big. Is big. I love my life, and accept that what I call “aloneliness” is the price I pay for thriving almost entirely on my own terms. Only this time of year does the aloneliness bleed into bona-fide loneliness, and when it does I feel totally unmoored. After Thanksgiving, I purposefully did not make Christmas plans because I thought it’d be exhausting to append myself to another family’s celebration after a thoroughly draining 2015. But the days spread ahead of me suddenly feel less luxurious than daunting. Grim, even. As I walked to the train today, I felt like weeping. If I’m going to be truly honest, I was weeping. I could feel magic all around me but not in me.

The thing is: I do not live as a family person. I live as a friend person. And winter solstice should be spent in the presence of others with whom you can be quiet, which is the only kind of company that I lack and is something I generally associate with families. This is the time of year when I miss my godmother, my mother’s mother, my father’s father. The people who saw me without my having to telegraph who I was. I suppose creating that kind of space is the first of my goals for the new year.

But that’s me doing what I always do: applying a can-do constructiveness to my blues. I’ve been doing it this whole post, even if I’ve been calling myself on it. I can’t help it. It’s how I’ve always lit the darkness that threatened to swallow me, especially when I was younger. I’m glad I have this streak; am impatient with those who don’t cultivate it. But for tonight, I think the truth of the truth is that I’m really sad. And I’m going to have to tolerate this sadness–bear the discomfort of this long night, the despair of this frightening silence, until something or someone turns on a light. It’s the Mother Mary story at its purest: a faith that the emptiness will always be filled.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy