Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Blues for Christmas (not Elvis)
"Are you set for Christmas?" someone asked a friend, who suffers from chronic illness. The assumption behind this cliche is that one has set out the holiday fanfare, bought presents, and the like. But that could not be done, and had not been done for over a decade. You see, the chronically ill are not normal; they don't do the usual things: take vacations, go out to eat, keep their houses as they'd like (clean, well decorated), entertain guests, work full-time or part-time, have a set of regular friends, and other items of everyday life. The pedestrian becomes the alien.
Trying to explain this cluster of consternation to someone ignorant of it all (particularly a mere acquaintance) just is not worth it. So, she made a vague remark to cover it all up--and mustered a half smile, God bless her.
It is well know that depression and suicide increase around the holidays. People feel obligated to be extra happy. They cannot. This sad fact then makes them more sorrowful, even morose. The same unhappy effect strikes the loved ones of the chronically ill as well. They spend the holidays attending to their spouses, children, or friends--trying to buck up, to keep working, serving, to not become self-centered and complaining. When they fail, the pain they cause the loved one and themselves is almost impossible to bear. This is because few (if any) others can step in and help their spouse or daughter or father. The crushing burden is their's alone to bear--and they have not handled it very well. Nor can they share their lament with many others. People simply do not have the categories, and educating them as to this brand of despair is not a happy task at all. Often, the eys of the new instructed glaze over (while the rest of their face labors to look concerned); they nearly cock their hands in disbelief like dogs perplexed by a strange human gesture unfathomed and unfathomable. But this time, it is not cute.
Christmas comes, stays; and mercifully goes. The joyful carols are silenced. The pomp is put back into its packages. The festivities are buried for another year. But guilt remains at not be able to rejoice--or only rejoicing in brief episodes.
The theology of Christ-mas remains: God has incarnated for our salvation. It is true. It is reasonable. It matters for eternity in every area of life. Yet the chronically ill and their helpers think more of the Cross than the manger, more of the lamenting, beaten, and bloodied Jesus, than the tiny, perfect babe. They also try to think ahead to a time when every tear is taken a way, when bodies work and thrive and sup rise in their hidden virtuosity.
At the end of the day, we--the lamentable lamentors--confess our sins. "We have not loved God with our whole hearts. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves..." God hears, knows, weeps, forgives, and does not forsake. Nor does he do everything what we want, either. In the morning, we remember that His mercies are new this day--if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. But we are glad that Christmas (but not the Incarnation) is over.