Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Balm for weary hearts
This was my column yesterday, December 22. The picture at left was taken a couple of years back during a Christmas reunion with some members of the first batch of college students who took classes under me.
This time of the year is most stressful for me for many reasons.
It’s usually planning-for-next-year season at my day job on top of the many year-end chores that need to be attended to such as putting together the usual end-of-the-year reports and corporate events. In the last three weeks, my team at work has been putting in 12-hour workdays to meet major deadlines. At some point it seemed the whole Christmas season was getting in the way of our work.
This time of the year also marked the end of the second term at the College where I teach and that meant reading stacks of papers, checking tests, computing grades and necessarily, consoling and giving counsel to students who did not make the grade. I had to flunk some students in a major course I taught and this meant of course that they will not be able to graduate on time.
Professors can trundle out that worn-out explanation about how we don’t manufacture grades—we just compute them; that it’s the students themselves that make the grade. But try conveying that to a bawling 20-year- old male college jock who is giving you this sob story about how this last school term was his last chance and that his parents are most likely not going to foot his tuition next term. And then there are students who do plead their case by imploring the spirit of the season, as in “Sir, Christmas naman.” It’s almost enough to make one swear off Christmas.
There’s also the Christmas rush and as usual, I am not even halfway there with the shopping, the wrapping and not to mention the delivery of Christmas presents. I know. All this running and huffing to beat the closing time of department stores has become an annual tradition. This has got to stop.
And as a columnist, this time of the year is difficult because it’s when one is supposed to be—in my case, the operative term is attempt to be—profound, philosophical, perhaps even a bit sentimental.
It’s Christmas, for crying out loud.
It’s that time of the year when one tries to be inspired or inspiring, when one is supposed to be preoccupied with other things other than the self. It’s supposed to be the time of the year when one lets go of the child within each one of us (that’s a really tired cliché; what can I say, I told you I often stink at trying to be philosophical).
It’s just a little more difficult to be optimistic and cheerful when deluged with a thousand and one reasons to be depressed. This season does bring out the worst aspects of commercialism. I’m not going to go into the details as I am sure everyone is aware of the pressure this season brings in terms of giving the right gifts, imbibing the right spirit, etc.
And if we really come to think about it, the Christmas season is probably when we do the most damage to the environment. Think of all those plastic tinsels, wrappers, ribbons, boxes that get produced and passed around this time of the year.
All these aggravations are more than enough to make one’s heart weary.
But fortunately for many of us, Christmas is also the time for reunions and get-togethers. And really, it’s in these occasions when one rediscovers the whole essence of the season—not when the singing and the dancing and the laughing is ongoing but when everyone is quiet and there’s nothing to do but sit around and listen and feel each other’s presence.
I attended one such event last Saturday night and I was glad I went out of my way to be there despite, well, you already know how hectic these last few weeks have been for me because I just ranted about them. It was a very intimate party—there were only six of us college friends who could make it.
And as we sat there updating ourselves with what’s new in our respective lives and basking in the warmth and affection that can only be had when in the company of kith and kin, my college best friend distributed his Christmas gifts. It was a book marker which he himself crafted— actually, a small water color painting that I intend to have framed. It came with a Christmas card—an old-fashioned greeting card with a picture of a Christmas scene in front and another old-fashioned rhyming message inside.
On the flap of the card he wrote “It’s very easy and convenient to bury the real essence of Christmas with the partying, the gift-giving, the shopping orgy, and the other claptraps and excuses that we have invented so that we don’t have to deal with the more difficult part of Christmas. As we reach the midpoint of our lives, I hope that we can all take this occasion to see Christmas for what it really is, which is renewing ourselves.”
A hush descended on the table. This is a friend who lost his wife to a very tragic and senseless accident; someone who, for a while, I thought would not be able to recover from the pain. And here he was, helping us come to terms with the real essence of the season. He is also quite sick himself, although he doesn’t really talk about it nor does he allow us to discuss the state of his health. But he hit a chord within each one of us in that table—there has got to be more to Christmas than just the partying and the consumerism.
When we come to think about it, it’s sad that most of us have forgotten what the advent stands for. It’s supposed to be the time for preparing our hearts for Christmas, but instead, it has become a schedule for parties and shopping.
And so today, barely a few days before Christmas, I hope each one of us can take respite from the hustle bustle and the mad scramble of the holiday rush to look inside ourselves to find and rediscover the real meaning of the season. As someone once said, “he who does not have Christmas in his heart will not find it under a tree.”
Merry Christmas, everyone!