How to breathe it all in and love it all out.
I recently declared that I feel like the grinch.
However, this isn’t completely true.
Actually, I feel overwhelmed with the beauty of the love that expands from people’s beating hearts this time of year.
My daughter is assuming her typical position: holding her microphone and singing along to the Christmas songs thumping from the stereo.
She’s mesmerized by the melodic voices and the symphonic music and she transports me to my own childhood. More, she reminds me that peace and silent nights do exist—even for us lowly adults—but we have to forget moving in the swirling, churning world of phony busyness and hypnotic money-spending if we want to possess it, feel it—and live it.
I have goosebumps so intense that my biceps feel stiffened as I try to type this, because my daughter’s voice is filling the room—and my sometimes grinch-y, empty-feeling heart—as she sings along to Silent Night.
She soothes and brings up emotions in me that I thought more than latent—I thought them dead.
She brings up longing and passion and heartache with the easy crooning of her holiday singing.
She both illuminates and pacifies pieces and parts of me I thought I had left behind, in my own past and in my own childhood.
The weather is unseasonably warm—creepy, in fact—it’s 60 and I live in the heart-shaped state of Ohio.
It’s windy and there’s rain, rather than snow, saturating the December landscape. Twinkling lights brighten the room and I see lush greens outside my big front picture window where their colors are reflected.
And I feel like a grinch—because I want to give more than I have to offer.
I’m not just talking about physical gifts, either. I’m talking about time and smiles and space that my heart wants to keep for itself; hidden and fictitiously safe.
Because there’s something within me that finds this time of year to be as overwhelming as it is beautiful; that wants to close up and shut down in the face of all this giving and love.
How many of us are like this, whether we recognize it or not?
How many of us turn away from hugs and smiles and eyes penetrating our own because we feel raw and uncertain and incapable of being vulnerable?
One of the worst periods of my life happened during Christmas a couple of years ago. Its pain haunts me, and not only when I sleep, but in my waking daily life.
I’m haunted by the fragility of life and the quiet slow leaking of joy when devastation hits. I’m profoundly altered, too, by the crushing, immediate blows that life dishes out when we’re least expecting them.
Yet is this reason enough to not allow more love to also creep in, to leak in? To fill up the spaces—and the holes—that have riddled our aching human hearts?
Because life can be haunting, disturbing and upsetting—and it can also be filled with moments of such elation that we feel it rise up into our throats and out of our eyes, down our cheeks and out from our battered and torn hearts.
We breathe in pain. We breathe in misery—and sometimes we breathe it back out because we have no choice; we don’t know what else to do.
But here’s what I suggest: we breathe it all in—all of it—and then we love it all out.
We accept that there are two parts to being a grinch: one half that asks us to shut out our pain and create it for others by doing so and another half—that defies mathematics by being exponentially more powerful—which asks us to surrender our joys and our sadness as not being entirely ours, and then we choose love as a response to both.
My feelings get hurt and it’s often significantly easier to be snotty rather than kind.
My body is ill and it’s much, much less complicated to be selfishly callous rather than empathetic to what’s occurring around me.
In short, choosing love and all that comes with it—patience, kindness, forgiveness—isn’t always the simpler option. (Actually it’s usually not.)
And here’s something else that I suggest:
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”
Nevertheless, I’m not someone who seeks difficulty or drama or unnecessary hardships. But what about when they find us, regardless of if we went searching?
We experience it.
We take it in.
We own our reactions and our thoughts, however unwanted or unwarranted—and then we transform them into something that will be written about and sung about and Christmas-caroled about as long as humans exist:
“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
~ Dr, Seuss, How the Grinch Stone Christmas!
We breathe it all in.
We love it all out.
Because love doesn’t always feel “safe,” and it sure as hell isn’t always easy. But the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.
It’s being alone.
More importantly, when we shove others away, we’re not truly separating ourselves. Instead, we’re declaring that we feel our connectedness too intensely to handle. Ironically, we’re declaring and shouting—and then alternately cringing—at the strength and the tenacious force of love.
And we’re saying that we’re not capable of receiving it; that we’re not capable of giving it—and that’s a lie.
The truth is that by moving away from our fears—that we’re not worthy of love, either as recipients or givers—we’re creating them and then moving into them.
So let’s acknowledge that it’s more difficult than it should be to open ourselves up to the wonders and the trials that life and love have to show us.
Let’s recognize this challenge—and then bravely accept it.
Because we are all warriors of love.
We’re all soldiers (of varying battles, triumphs and defeats).
And we’re also brothers and sisters in arms.
Because we are good enough—just as we are.
We are strong enough—even when we feel weakest.
We are resilient—especially when we’ve broken.
And we—just ourselves—are more than enough of a gift.
We hold each other’s hearts in the palms of our own hands more often than we’d like to admit.
So let’s be gentle.
Let’s choose to breathe it all in—and to love it all out.
Let’s choose to sing and not be silenced; to embrace our falls but not accept them as failures.
Let’s choose to be warriors of love, even when this means welcoming damage and scars.
Better still, let’s value love so much that holding our breath becomes no longer an option.
If you’ll excuse me, my warrior princess is asking me to join her in a duet.
“There must be more to life than having everything.”
~ Maurice Sendak
(This one’s for all my love rangers, you know who you are.)
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: courtesy of the author; elephant archives