The Bare Necessities
Here's what really gets to us about the holiday season. It's not the way advertisers assault us, though that's troubling. It's not the way radio stations insist upon playing the most grating seasonal songs they can get their hands on, though that's annoying. It's not even the pressure put on us by others—to send Christmas cards, to show up to holiday brunches, to decorate with splendor and style—though those obligations weigh on many. Instead, here's my theory: the real problem with the holiday season is what I like to call the disconnect. First, there are the surface disconnects, such as the disconnect between our table and Martha Stewart's table. Or the disconnect between our humble decorations and the neighbor's light show spectacular. But that's not where it really hurts, not for most of us. What really hurts this time of year is the disconnect between people. Be it distance or time or hurt feelings or simply atrophy, the disconnect between us is what stings. The disconnect between our relationships as they are and as we wish they would be.
Why? Because the holidays are a time of gathering. And I'm never so lonely as when I'm about to set off on a long trip to visit faraway friends and family. Thrilled as I am to reunite with beloved people, the thought also brings pain. On most days, I can push aside how much I miss them, how much I long for a sense of home and belonging. I can focus on my work, on tasks I need to accomplish. But during the holidays, it's harder to forget the distance between us. The cozy scenes on TV, the soaring holiday carols … we want to share these things with someone else. We don't want to watch “Home Alone” or “Little Women” by ourselves. We don't want to go ice skating or candle-lighting or tree-hunting or basement-foraging-for-long-lost-decorations in solitude. We want to participate in these activities together. Not just physically together, to be sure, but together in spirit, together in heart.
With this in mind, I'm thinking about an unexpected moment of connection I shared with Willie last week. On Black Friday, I woke early in the guest room of my parents' house. After a moment of disorientation, I registered the unmistakable sounds of struggle and loud noises coming from downstairs. Given my brother's history of aggressive and self-injurious behavior, my mind filled in the blanks: Willie is having a meltdown, our parents need help … though at this volume, he's probably roused our aunt and uncle, who are sleeping on the pull-out couch in the living room. That's unfortunate, but at least it means that our parents will have help. I rose slowly, trying to steel myself for what I might find downstairs. Willie's door stood ajar; his bed empty. I descended the stairs with a solid lump of dread in my stomach.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I found the family dogs, Chevy and Chance, scuffling and play-fighting. Confusion was soon eclipsed by relief: for once, it wasn't Willie going crazy! For once, he wasn't wrapped up in a rug, trying to calm himself. There was nothing to fear. In fact, Willie was in a fine—albeit sleepy—state when I found him. He'd escaped to the finished basement, curled up next to the space heater, and put on Disney's “The Jungle Book.” I sat down next to him, and he leaned right into me, ducking his head in the way that always speaks to me of trust. To be sure, I knew that he was cold, that he wanted to be closer to me in order to get warm. I knew that, but I also knew that this unarmored, early-morning time was a gift. And so we watched the movie for about half an hour before I headed back upstairs, humming along to, “The Bare Necessities” as I went. “Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities, forget about your worries and your strife ...”
And for that time, I could forget about worry and strife. I could inhabit that pocket of peace, knowing that I'd received everything I needed and more.