Years ago when I first visited New York around Christmas, I was charmed by the staff in stores chiming Happy Holidays as they handed you your beautifully wrapped packages. Voices ringing with merriment, shop windows luminous in scintillating colours. The air crisp outside, heaved still with human warmth.
It’s a peculiar time, the holiday season, turgid with emotion and good will, yet fraught also with possibilities to upset and bump into each other, as families and friends gather together, as memories of the past and longings for the future surface.
It takes real presence of mind to remember that its not just about copious eating, nor excessive spending, nor, nor… but really human warmth and connection that we’re hoping for, as time slows down over the holidays.
Some people feel more solid, clear, steady, thoughtful, sure-footed. They inspire our trust, our willingness to be in relationship with them, personal or professional. We can rely on them. There’s consistency between what they say and do. We can open our selves and our ideas to them. They will not unnecessarily hurt us, we feel.
Other people feel wishy-washy, not really clear about what they stand for. Erratically say this today and something wholly different tomorrow. Their words feel sometimes hollow, shady, even dishonest. They appear lost, then rushing in some arbitrary direction. Their behaviour, not all the time, but often enough is bewildering.
Character is what distinguishes the one from the other.
The other day I came upon a photograph of an actress-model now in her late seventies. I was struck by how much she had changed from the nonchalant, easy beauty of her youth. So I looked up images of men and women actors, their young selves and their older selves, and breathed a pleasing sigh.
Everyone, I figured, even those who begin with extraordinary physical beauty, everyone outwardly changes with the passing of the years.
But, here’s the rub. When I think about older people, hmm I’m older too, I know that it’s not their changed and changing physical features that matters most, no. It’s all about attitude and spirit.
Do you still have the drive to inject joy into your days, or have you descended into crankiness, fearfulness, into feeling out of step with the world?
Zest for life, spiritedness and merriment are not automatic. Not for the young, not for the old. They are cultivated and nurtured, one day at a time.
On the plane the other day, I watched the
movie Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
A quirky, slightly oddball, hit and miss affair about Bernadette, a stellar
architect with a trail of accomplishments in her youth, whose life has evolved
into a kind of stasis, impasse, a living in the mist.
Bernadette lives in a large ramshackle mansion, is married to a loving Microsoft executive, has a brilliant daughter who loves her. Bernadette is anti-social, feels nothing in common with her neighbours, hates Seattle where she lives, is devoted solely to supporting her daughter. Dramatically she has opted out of architecture and socialising, for a narrow life of mothering in the suburbs.
“If you don’t create Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.”
What happened to Bernadette? I can’t tell you, for that would spoil your viewing! What I can say, what the movie reminded me is that there’s a place, just under the surface of living, a space of mist and shadowy fog where we all sometime land, where joy cannot bubble. Bernadette does push through, and so can we, every time.
“When he reared his head and neighed his deep chest, like deep wind-bells resounding, she seemed to hear the echoes of another darker, more spacious, more dangerous, more splendid world than ours, that was beyond her. And there she wanted to go.”