Not quite as merry as I had intended

I’ve been trying to write a deep, meaningful, eloquent but also funny post — you know, no pressure — about the potential sacredness of Christmas even to grumpy old atheists like me, the way it can still be a holiday for those of us who don’t believe in the word “holy,” but it gets too personal and I can’t write it. I want to say something about giving, how what we usually call “selflessness” — generosity — has to stem from a place of self-worth. I want to tell you that in your darker days, if you ask for help you will often get it: people help not because they pity you, but because they want you not to suffer, not because suffering is shameful but because it is universal;  even if they don’t understand your exact feelings, they understand what suffering is and want to alleviate it. But it gets too personal and I can’t write it. So I’ll wax philosophical instead.

We talk a lot here about the way entrenched social forces seem to conspire to make us miserable: to starve and punish ourselves for being who we are, to see our bodies as burdens rather than gifts, to deem ourselves unworthy of the simplest pleasures. Today, let’s focus instead on celebrating the kindnesses we’ve received and those we’ve given: the selflessness of others who have believed that our selves are every bit as worth caring for as every other human being’s. Whether you’re fat, thin, in-between, able-bodied, disabled, a person of color, white, queer, straight, female, male, trans, unhealthy, the picture of health, athletic, a bookworm, a social outcast or the darling of your community — whatever brought you here — you are fully human and deserving of happiness and of support when happiness seems unreachable. You are worthy of love. You are allowed to be happy to be this very person.

You are a gift to this world.

Merry Christmas.

32 thoughts on “Not quite as merry as I had intended

  1. That was plenty merry for me. That’s the kind of thing that warms my heart on Christmas – that when I’d go to Christmas mass, that was the homily I’d look forward to – knowing that even if I couldn’t agree with the Church for the other 364 days, Christmas mass always made me feel like a larger part of the world.

    Thanks for making my morning brighter (especially since I didn’t go to mass!)

    Happy Holidays.

  2. Thanks for this, Sweet Machine! I think most of us can use reminding of that fact.

    Also, I have to say, Shapely Prose is one of my favorite gifts in the world. Thanks to you and Kate and Fillyjonk, there’s a place to be big in every sense of the word, to be bold, and to be both infuriated and amused…often at the same time, in the company of others who understand.

    I’m not sure yet what’s sitting under the tree for me, but I know that coming to Shapely Prose is like unwrapping a special gift every single day.

    And, dammit, I’m fucking worth it.

  3. a lone Jew here reading her blogs on Christmas…

    that was a beautiful post, and one of the few on this holiday that didn’t make me feel a slight tinge of exclusion from some big party I haven’t been invited to… Thanks Sweet Machine :)

  4. Thank you for this, in particular, “the selflessness of others who have believed that our selves are every bit as worth caring for as every other human being’s.”

    What’s been rattling around in my head is the desire to hear (and saying it to myself will have to do): “you, like most people, occupy the vast space between extreme beauty and ugliness, and are every bit as loveable as everyone else who occupies that space.” Echoes of Ani DiFranco’s song that was posted here a while ago. I feel I need a reminder that it’s not a crime to not be what is considered by the mainstream to be beautiful. And most of the people I love, and love to look at, are also outside of the mainstream of beauty.

    I wish everyone here love, peace, hope, and change for good in the coming year. While it’s Christmas today, it’s stilll Chanukah, too, and lately, the lights of the Hannukiah help to remind me that fighting to preserve what I treasure is a worthwhile pursuit, too.

  5. Thanks, Sweet Machine. Christmas is a hard time for me for many reasons and your thoughtful essay makes it a little easier.

  6. Thanks! Around the holidays I get down about not having a S.O, a family, & not being close to the one I was born into. All the frou-frou ads, much as you like to think they can’t get to you, make me feel like the things that I do have, that I’m lucky to have – friends, a job I care about that allows me to be creative, let alone a secure job in this economy – don’t count. I have to remind myself the life you live every day counts more than what you imagine you should be living once a year.

    Plus, I did get to have the perfect Jewish/agnostic/grinch christmas eve last night: dinner and a movie with friends. Life is good.

  7. Thank you so much for this post. This has been an absolute pigfucker of a year (grandad’s funeral! Husband losing his job on my birthday and us having no income for six months, after last year’s five months of no income! Months of expensive, invasive and INCREDIBLY painful last-chance fertility treatment! Miscarriage number eight and no chance to try again, resulting in me being more ill than I have ever been and no idea if this is a temporary flare or dramatic permanent deterioration! Disastrous and debt-inducing move to another country! Massive, massive family drama! Having to move house all over again less than 3 months after the country-change!) and the last couple of months especially have totally shredded all the good work I’ve done on my self-esteem (that good work having been done with a huge amount of help from SP and the fatosphere in general).
    Today my husband and I sat together in our presentless house and weren’t that bothered about the fact that we couldn’t get presents for each other – we felt bad about not doing volunteer work today, and talked about ways we could be more helpful and useful next year – all year, as well as at Christmas. I am trying to do as much good for others as you all have done for me, and have felt like a big failure. So this post was timely, and made me cry, in the good way, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say thank you enough.
    Wow, incoherent reply is incoherent.

  8. Sweet Machine, thank you for that lovely post. This Catholic wishes you and all a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or whichever holiday(s) you choose to celebrate- peace on earth and goodwill to all of you.

  9. Delurking in honor of this post!
    This was so lovely, timely, and true.

    Here’s what one of my personal “selfless others” said to me recently while I was wading through a bout of toxic mind-waste: “Honey, you are like the moon, sometimes you’re bigger, sometimes you’re smaller, but you’re always luminous and beautiful.”

    Do we all love her? We do.

    Somehow I could really hear that, probably because I’m such a moon fan. Also because she’s so good at that thing people who really love you can do, where she looks at me with a light in her eyes which makes it impossible not to see myself through them (i.e. as lovable and delicious, though slightly silly for being capable of momentarily believing otherwise). I wish for everyone here that we remember what it feels like to be held in that kind of gaze, no matter what, every moment.

    Also, Sweet Machine, I just sat a long meditation retreat and I think what you are talking about, in buddhist language, is the difference between pity and compassion. Pity comes from a distancing, a separation between self and other that is implicitly hierarchical – I feel sorry for you because you’re in worse shape than I am, and my pity is actually disguised aversion – stems from a desire to push you away, keep you at arms length, demonstrate how different you are than me (we all know what that feels like). Whereas compassion springs organically from a recognition of our basic shared humanness, the way in which our hearts keep breaking in all the same ways; it creates a deep connection through our own pain into a recognition of the pain of others, and is implicitly egalitarian – I have compassion for you because I recognize that you hurt in the same way I hurt, that we are basically the same, in this together, and the natural movement that springs from that recognition is to help each other out whenever we can.

    Once she delurks, you CAN’T STOP HER!

    Also, I’m not always this solemn, please believe.

    Happy holiday of your choice, all!

  10. Sweet Machine, thank you so much for this. In a world apparently (even in the ‘season of goodwill’) dedicated to telling us otherwise, the fact of us all being worthy and lovable just as we are can’t be stated often enough.

    Happy holidays, everyone. And Shira, I hope things get better for you soon.

  11. Thank you for writing this. You put into words what I feel in my heart.

    Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Solstice, Holidays and Happy New Year to all!

  12. Well, Sweet Machine, I think you did say it. Shira, I thought I’d had a heavy year, but I realise I haven’t at all. I hope 2009 is easier for you. I hope everyone is finding this season a time for recharging and not a time of stress.

  13. (((Shira))) I can’t believe you are thinking of others with the year you’ve had. Wow. That’s really amazing. But I wish you hadn’t had to deal with it all the same, of course, and I wish I could help.

    Thank you so much for this, Sweet Machine.

    You are worthy of love. You are allowed to be happy to be this very person.

    You know, this very person that I am, is someone who often has a lot of trouble believing those two statements… but I’m closer than I was last Christmas. To think I’m worthy of love, even when I fumble relationships due to my deep suspicion that I’m not really worthy of love… It’s hard to believe. And crap, now I’m crying. (In a good way.)

  14. My three year old girlie solemnly observed the title bar at the top of this blog with the cartoon pictures of Kate, Fillyjonk and Sweet Machine then began crowing “mama, mama! It’s the PowerPuff Girls!”

    They are her heroes. Merry Christmas.

  15. [delurk]

    Shira – I don’t feel it’ll ever be possible for me to thank sufficiently all of the people and all of the places – and SP is one of them – that have helped me to get better over the years. All I ever can do is pass it on – as and when I have the resources (emotional, physical, whichever) to do so. And I think that’s all anyone can do, really, and one of the best ways I’ve found to find those resources is to not beat myself up about it during the times when they’re not around!

    Er, which is all a huge opinionated way of saying “you don’t need to feel like a failure!” And, um, from a stranger (possibly on the other side of the planet): good luck, and you inspire.

    As, indeed, does Shapely Prose – so thank you, Sweet Machine, for this post, and thank you to Kate and Fillyjonk as well, and I’m only sorry I didn’t say it sooner…

  16. I love the {boreal} winter solstice {and solstice-ish} holidays so much: the traditions of Yule, Hanukkah, Christmas, Saturnalia, etc. are just beautiful. At the darkest time of the year, we light flames, gather with loved ones, and eat rich foods to remind ourselves that warmth and harvest will come again.

    What about you folks in the Southern Hemisphere, though? I wish there was an austral-winter solstice holiday for you guys: I see friends in Australia and South Africa doing the lights and yummy food and gathering and presents stuff, but what about when it’s dark for you folks and you need a reminder of the warm, rich days ahead?

    I suggest an Austral Yule tradition to celebrate the winter solstice below the equator. Those of us in the northern climes can be grilling outdoors while you guys are doing your thing with candles in the window…

  17. Thanks for this, Sweet Machine – and muz for this: I wish for everyone here that we remember what it feels like to be held in that kind of gaze, no matter what, every moment..

    And best wishes to all for peace, joy, and not feeling beaten up by the holidays -

  18. Thanks for thinking of us, Jupiter Pluvius! I am pagan so we celebrate Midsummer at this time, what we druidy-type people call Alban Hefin. We join into the spirit of christmas and have a great time. Most of us, though tend to eat more summery things like cold meats and salads. We still go crazy with deserts though!

    To make sure even non-pagans get to celebrate Midwinter, they have invented a thing they call “christmas in July” so we get to do it twice a year if we want to. :)

    Mind you, for us midwinter is so mild, it is not like we need to think about returning light and so on to cheer us up. Here in Western australia at least, winter is a time of green growing things and cool weather giving us lots of energy. We really do need the mid-december celebration time to keep us going through months of heat and dry, which is kind of like our death time just as winter is for you guys.

    Love the moon quote, Muz, it is beautiful!

  19. Thank you Sweet Machine! Although I prize merriment so much I take my online name from it (from one of my favorite Christmas carols, no less: “rejoice and be you merry (b u merry =bumerry), set sorrow aside, Christ Jesus our savior was born on this tide.” You have surpassed it and given many people joy during a season when it is supposed to be a given, but is often marred by abusive families for we fat folks.

    Actually, I’m agnostic, but I LOVE Christmas, for many reasons. I tend to feel (thinking seems largely unhelpful to me in spiritual matters, hence the “I dunno” agnosticism) that different religions and other types of belief sets get different parts of The Big Existence We Share right. Christmas gets it REALLY right according to my feelings/perceptions about existence. The fact that I’m both a folk musician and a birth junkie plays some part, I suppose. *grin* How could I NOT like a month filled with twelfth century,magical, world wide tunes about conception, pregnancy and birth being a miracle? It’s in my blood and bones.

    (((Shira))) you are in my thoughts, and if there is anything I can help with (just lost my job, so money is out unfortunately) – clothes, a letter of reference, using the internet to hook you up with resources that may exist in your country/community, just email me at bumerry@gmail.com and I will do anything in my power to help. I’m a social worker who can accomplish virtually whatever needs doing on the internet. I found my best friend’s lost credit card that went missing at some unknown point during her honeymoon in London (we are in the US) in under an hour, called the cab company where it had slipped back in the seat gap, and had it overnighted to her by the cab company at no charge after cold calling them and turning on the charm. I’m just sure I could help you two out in some way, we can figure out details in email.

    Carrying over from the AWESOME Aunt Fatty post (Thanks A Sarah! I loved it.) comment by (((Shinobi))):

    Um, photoshopping your child in the family Christmas photo is really as abusive and creepy as it gets, in my book. First of all, I for one do NOT want my dad dwelling on my socially defined sexual appeal or lack thereof, let alone pimping it through “deceptive advertising” to friends, family and even strangers! Second, it shows thoughtless and abusive contempt for someone he’s supposed to love unconditionally. I am so sorry this happened to you. It does make for some vividly detailed and fun revenge fantasies on your behalf, though, if you don’t mind me indulging. :)

    Despite everything, I hope that the holidays treat everyone well this year and Happy New Year’s to all!

  20. In Oz, we used to have a mid-winter celebration, at least in some states. We used to celebrate the Queen’s Birthday with cracker night. Bonfires and fireworks watched by everyone all wrapped up in parkas. It was wonderfully, utterly irrelevant to the holiday (who cares about the Queen’s birthday, and it wasn’t on her birthday anyway). But then they banned fireworks and the tradition died. Sad really.

    Lovely post – Christmas is about inclusiveness, involvement and fun for me, and everyone deserves that, no matter what.

  21. (((Shira))) What a wonderful relationship you must have with your husband to stay strong together through so much hardship. I wish you a thriving 2009.

    I vote for Muz’s moon quote to be the forum tag for a month!

    :) to everyone here.

    I also like Thornacious’ blog post on “Sucess v. Failure” and I think it echos this post in some ways.

  22. (((Sweet Machine))), thank you for this post. I haven’t had time to read, lately, so just catching up. If something that’s going on in your life prompted it – I hope things get much better.

    It’s posts like this that keep me coming back regularly – I definitely enjoy the snarky ones too – but posts like this touch my heart and remind me of all the good people in the world.

    (((Shira))) you and your husband awe me – with all that you’ve been through (and I thought *I* had a bad year) you’re still thinking of others. May your goodness and caring come back to you 100 fold!

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