For most of us, including this fortunate, fortunate man, the holidays arrive with many guests at the house that is a soul. Rumi described these arrivals in his famous poem, The Guest House–
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice. meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes. because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Triggered by a song or a scent, some of my holiday arrivals are fond memories of childhood or moments with my own children filled with wonder. Some are warm conversations with friends or letters from all over about everyone’s last year passed. And some others are moments of keen realization of loss and grief. Like Dickens’s bountiful ghost of Christmas Present who arrives with the waifs of ignorance and want, the holidays can bring sad guests.
As I described in my post, “Community of Now,” my distance from my own children colors life each day. This coloring deepens at Christmas, remembering the better times when they were young. Wide eyed wonder of a little boy opening his Tonka truck and of amber-haired twins rushing down in snuggly pajamas to behold a fire lit room awash in gifts. I will be forever grateful that I was relatively able when they were at the chasing, running, toddler ages. For now, all I can do is let the grief move through me and hope they have a happy Christmas in Virginia. Life is full of chapters. I try to stay hopeful and wait for someday.
As another year passes, the large greedy guest of MS also gets much louder. MS is that guest who was never invited and never leaves reliably. Sometimes he used to disappear, only to resurface at inconvenient times, demanding his steroid infusions. Now he “walks” with me every day, and I carry a cane to keep him under control. He’s that guest that none of the others want to engage in conversation, and when he does speak, often the room goes quiet for a minute in discomfort or even horror.
Last year at a ski house with friends, I returned from a walk too long with no balance left and a face full of the ashen, drained frustration that overtakes the one who dares walk a few score paces beyond capacity. I remember the looks on my friends’ faces as they offered the perfect mix of support without syrup, helping me find a chair in which to fall apart for a while. In that moment, I was the ghost of MS Presence. He cannot be banished, but he can rest if well handled and supported.
At the close of 2014, as I inevitably compare how difficult getting somewhere this year was from last, my MS screams “You can barely walk at all anymore!” He is an alarmist, this guest, but he is not completely wrong. My year of workouts aimed at creating a plateau where I lost no more of my last quarter mile of walking ability has not succeeded, and I worry that a blog post titled “Is this the last year before the scooter?” may get written in 2015. As it approaches and I grow completely comfortable with things like wheelchairs in airports, I can feel a gradual acceptance mixed with the unfailing determination to keep up the pace on workouts. It will be what it will be.
And when my MS guest’s voice gets too loud to bear, humor comes to the rescue. Movies like “Home for the Holidays” with Holly Hunter or anything with Chevy Chase remind that we are all ridiculous, all surrounded by wacky characters who can push our buttons, all beautifully broken together.
The perfect holiday is one where all the guests of the soul pile in but our acceptance of them leaves us able to be present and feel the magic of the moment. And then, a moment later, we stand gaping like the family in “A Christmas Story” as we watch the Bumpus hounds eating our turkey that had taken days to prepare. An hour later, we eat Chinese food and forever look back on it as a favorite Christmas. What we make of the MesS is what matters, always.