By Nick DAngelo
We’ve just returned to Union from another holiday season. While this may have been the place of change at one time, it has become a refuge of comforting permanence. With so many changes occurring in all of our lives, the steady daily routine of Union is a needed commodity.
The changes that so many of us have experienced over the past few years are no doubt most harshly felt during the holidays. As we grow older, the meaning and purpose of that time of year has begun to change — and maybe for the better. While change is often scary and intimidating, it can also be purposeful as an offering of opportunity.
Our holidays were routine — Thanksgiving at home and Christmas Eve at our grandfather’s, always surrounded by family. And that’s the way it stayed, relatively unchanged, until March 2012, when our first grandparent passed away.
I have to say that I was more fortunate than most growing up, shielded from the sorrows of death and the change that accompanies it. To go two decades without experiencing loss is certainly a blessing, but it leaves one woefully unprepared. It was during that first holiday season, over a year ago now, that the table seemed emptier and the atmosphere seemed colder. It was also during this time that I began to notice the shifting importance of that time of year, which I’m sure we all experience at some point in our lives.
No longer a time centered on gifts and giddy excitement, those few winter months have become something greater, if more somber. Because what made Granny’s untimely passing so painful was that she was a constant force. Her annual routine dictated ours — she was with us for Thanksgiving, with our cousins for Christmas and she never wavered from that strict schedule. Without her consistency, it is easy to see how lost one could become.
This very topic was addressed in a “Dear Abby” column right before Christmas. “Miserable from Massachusetts” spoke of his newfound hatred for the holidays since the passing of his wife earlier that year. “I see everyone else having someone in their lives and I feel alone,” he wrote, “There’s just me and my dog now. The holidays hurt.” Miserable was expressing what we all often feel: change isn’t fun. We appreciate predictability and long for the safety that necessarily accompanies it.
Abby’s response was simple and may give some comfort to anyone facing a similar predicament to Miserable’s. A way to alleviate the sense of isolation may be to do something for someone else. Our gift to others can often be our own presence. After all, wasn’t that Granny’s gift to us for our entire lives? Constant presence.
I would add a caveat that when confronted by change, one must confront it back. Change is meant to be experienced and one must see the value in the opportunity to live life differently. Perhaps those words of Tennyson, written in “Ulysses” in 1833, ring truer during this time of year than any other: “Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ /We are not now that strength which in old days /Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; /One equal temper of heroic hearts, /Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/ To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
The Kennedy family, during their own periods of intimate self-reflection, often relied on these words. That which we are, we are — hard to argue with that. Despite the changes we are forced towards by fate, perhaps weakening us in time, we remain who we are. We may no longer be the same, but we are still here, and our presence matters.
So, yes, the holiday season has lost some of its awe-inspiring charm. But in many ways the evening excitement for the next morning has been replaced with a deeper appreciation for the blessings we are often given. Despite life’s changes, we can still be awed by the miracles that come with tomorrow morning, just like the children of our past. 2014 is a new morning, and we have many exciting changes to look forward to. So be present and be prepared.
After all, to reference the words of comedian Woody Allen, most of life is just showing up.