It is Christmas Eve and I do not feel stressed or exhausted or elated or excited. I’m hostess this year. I have responsibility for cooking the bird and filling glasses and making sure the sink has been scoured and hand towels are out. I feel neither triumph nor failure. I feel sort of numb. Sort of dead inside. I will not get much personal meaning from being a great hostess or buying my son brilliant gifts or creating a cozy atmosphere. That is not what it means to me. I don’t feel Christmassy, whatever that is. Sometimes lines of poetry or snatches of power ballads visit me while I go about my day, and this is always a wake up call to my psyche, an invitation to look inward. I always pay attention when I am haunted by Rod Stewart. Or Diana Ross. Or the catholic poet, Franz Wright: ‘Day/ when the almond tree does not blossom/ and the grasshopper drags itself along.’
I am dragging myself along. Christmas is a reminder about a part of my soul I have dared not tread: I have gone numb rather than enter. It is littered with clay, plastic and fabric nativity scenes set up on TV stands and bookshelves and windowsills and carols and memories of candlelight and readings from the King James Version about virgins and angels. Christmas means that to me. It is gothic and creepy and weird and gorgeous. For better or for worse. Other versions of Christmas are lovely, and I have toured many of them: Santas, lights, gifts, booze, food, snow, family, but they are not home, they are not my soul. But I am in exile. I cannot quite inhabit the tradition I inherited. But, sometimes, when I can bear to be torn in two, I go to church, maybe on a whim, or because I had a particular dream or for a carol service, like I did a few weeks ago. I often try not to make eye contact. I often sit at the end of the pew, maybe next to a pillar I imagine might hide me a bit so I can immerse myself in my own reverie. I’m often afraid I’ll cry. I tremble during communion. I hate communion. For me it is a memory of scrutiny and union at the expense of personhood: it is a wound, my own personal everlasting stigmata. I tremble walking to church and I tremble walking back. And I also enjoy myself, I am in touch with a part of me I cannot quite reconcile or turn my back on entirely. I think of the line from O Little Town of Bethlehem: the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. This rings true. I feel both. Going to church takes me to the edge of what I understand about myself. And the very place I long to be for Christmas, the place that holds the most meaning, is also, paradoxically, the very place I have escaped from so I could lead a life that was personally meaningful to me.
I do not know how to contain this mystery, how to live this truth in my own skin.
Copyright Diana Smith 2017
Franz Wright, The First Supper, Walking to Martha’s Vinyard