All my Christmases have a different story

Merry Christmas Across the MilesAll my Christmases have a different story, generally reflecting the state of my life at the time. My childhood Christmases – when I still believed Santa brought the gifts – were full of excitement and anticipation. Those were also the times when I still enjoyed going to church services and even sang in the choir when I was 13 and 14. I’m an only child but my mother had 6 siblings so I grew up with plenty of aunts, uncles and cousins and we all went to my grandparent’s house for dinner on Christmas. I have happy memories of those years. In my early adult years we all started moving away and then I got married and entered a new phase.

Our relationship was a rocky one with lots of ups and downs during our almost 9 years of marriage but, I have good memories of some of the Christmases we spent together. He had a great sense of humor and was very quick-witted so he could usually make me laugh, even when I was mad at him. Some stories only became funny in later telling; like the year he came home drunk from a work Christmas party and fell onto our little 4′ tree that I had just finished lovingly decorating! He was almost 6’5″ and about 230 lbs so you can imagine what happened to the tree. Then there was the year our dog got into a whole tray of gingerbread men and spent the next few hours puking and pooping (this is a companion story to the year my son’s cat got into his Easter basket and came walking across the floor the next day with a long strand of green cellophane trailing from her butt!) In the fifth year of our marriage our son was born and we had some nice Christmases together as a family – until we didn’t.

Then there were all the single parent Christmases. Except for the first Christmas in the first house I owned, all those years blur together in my mind. The stress, financial anxieties, and pressure (mostly self-inflicted) of doing everything possible to give my son happy Christmas memories. The sadness and feelings of failure despite all the effort. The difficult relationships. The loneliness of not having a partner when it seemed that everyone around me was part of a couple. The awkward social gatherings with my ex-husband’s family – he there with his girlfriend and me, of course, alone. Forced joviality for the sake of my son, when inside I was seething over another year of late child support payments and neglectful behavior.

After I moved to Florida, my feelings about Christmas gradually changed. I let go of unrealistic expectations and began to take responsibility for my own happiness instead of thinking like a victim. A few years later my parents retired and joined me and I had a lot of really nice Christmases with my parents and my son, who arrived from wherever he was living to spend Christmas with us. Gradually, and privately, I began to find my way back to God and reconnect with the meaning of Christmas.

This year marks another big change in Christmas. My 40-year-old son finally got married and had a baby so his life is completely different from when he came here last Christmas. Naturally, they wanted to celebrate Christmas in their own home and with her family so they came for a visit a couple of weeks before Christmas. We had a wonderful visit and my mother was thrilled to meet her great-grandson but, Christmas this year has been very different.

Matthew with his Nanna Catton 12-8-17

The new great-grandmother!

On Christmas Day Mom and I had a nice dinner and then we opened Liberty’s gifts – 2 new toys and lots of treats and chewies!  We exchanged our gifts and then watched “A Christmas Carol”, as we always do. My son called from his home a thousand miles away to wish us a Merry Christmas and thank us for the gifts we sent. It was so nice to hear his voice but, his presence was certainly missed. I had some sad moments this Christmas but, I’m thankful that my feelings have mostly been of happiness and gratitude. That is a gift in itself.

If you’re struggling with feelings of unhappiness during this time of the year I have two suggestions – find a way to be of service to others, and read “Happiness is a Serious Problem” by Dennis Prager. (I’m not talking about clinical depression or any serious mental health issue – if you fall into this category please seek professional help). I’ve mentioned this book before because it was such an eye opener for me – I’ve read it all the way through three times and I periodically re-read sections. He also has a YouTube video in which he lectures about happiness – one of his favorite topics!

Liberty - Christmas portrait #1

Liberty’s Christmas 2017 portrait

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October Musings

Opal - October birthday for herThere are many things in my life for which I’m grateful. I thank God every day for my good health, the people who care about me, my four-legged best friend Liberty and my home. Last week we were fortunate to make it through Hurricane Matthew unscathed – power was out for less than two days and the only damage my house sustained was one shingle that ended up in the yard. So why have I been so down in the dumps this week?

It’s a combination of things – the awareness that time is passing by, I’m getting older, and I still haven’t met my soul mate, the feeling that everything I’ve accomplished in my life is in the past and now I have no real purpose, and just general concerns about my future and the future of our country. I knew this was a passing mood because it does descend on me every so often. Most of the time I’m content with my life but the other day I was wondering why love has always been such a challenge for me. I’m sure I’m not alone in these thoughts and someone who is reading this has also thought that, although their life is good, something is still missing. I believe there is a reason for everything and that God has a plan for each of us but that doesn’t mean I’m always able to patiently accept the unknown!

I decided I needed to talk it over with a good friend so I stopped at her house after my yoga class. I know she has experienced the challenges and disappointments of trying to find love and self-worth. She was divorced, and then spent many years as a widow. She tried online dating, fix-ups, blind dates and had no luck with them, just like me. She decided at some point to put it in God’s hands and just make the most of her life. It didn’t happen right away but, a few years after she came to that decision, she finally met the love of her life in a totally unexpected way. Actually, I came to the same decision myself several years ago but, every so often, the old doubts resurface and cause me to question “what is”.

It was good to talk with my friend because, having had many of the same experiences, she understands my feelings and offers just the right balance of reassurance, encouragement, and sympathy. She reminded me that, even when you don’t think you’re doing anything “important” you may be making an unseen impact on someone’s life. She said I have no way of knowing how much I may be helping a child when Liberty and I participate in PAWS to Read. Hmm. I just do it because I enjoy the kids and it’s fun for Liberty so I hadn’t thought about it that way but, as soon as she said it, I knew she was right. She suggested that I write two lists – one being 10 things I think are good about my life, the other being 10 things I’m not satisfied with. She remembered doing that in the past and feeling that it helped to put things in perspective for her. I know the positive in my life far outweighs the negative but I’m going to do the lists because I always like the idea of gaining new perspectives. Meanwhile, I already gained some perspective and lightened my mood just by sharing my feelings with such a caring friend. As I drove home I thanked God for the blessing of her friendship. Later on, she gave me another blessing when she sent an email saying that our conversation had helped her, too. She has been going through a significant health challenge this year and, in helping me with my concerns, she realized she needs to reassess some things in her life, too.

This morning the temperature was in the low 40’s – I’ve been waiting for a morning like this for two months! The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, Liberty was feeling very frisky and we had a lovely long walk on a wooded trail. As I walked along, saying my prayers, I could feel the last of my heavy mood lifting and blowing away on the breeze. I stopped to get a fresh baguette at the bakery then went home, toasted it and slathered it with butter and raspberry jelly. I sat in the screened porch and enjoyed the baguette, Starbucks Cafe Verona and the beautiful morning. Life is good 🙂

So, you may ask, what’s the point of this post? I guess I just wanted to share my thoughts about how I deal with down moods in the hope that it will be helpful to someone out there who might be feeling sad or alone. Some suggestions: 1) talk to a good friend whom you can trust with your feelings; 2) focus on the blessings in your life; 3) do something nice for someone; 4) adopt a dog from a shelter!

Happiness is not the absence of problems; it is the ability to deal with them.

2016-halloween

Treats? Yes?

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A Fine Romance

In SympathyAfter so many years of meeting the deadlines, dictates and expectations of others it is pure luxury to spend my time any way I please, which turns out to be mainly wandering from one idea to another. I realize now that this has always been my nature; I just didn’t have the freedom and time to follow it. As J. R. Tolkien said “Not all who wander are lost.” This week I have wandered into the meaning of romance. I am writing this for all of you who are without a partner and feel like less of a person because of it – I have felt that way in the past and I’m here to tell you it just ain’t so. You are whole and perfect as you are.

I have started doing some life coaching and, during a recent session, someone described themselves as romantic. It started me thinking – I’ve heard many people describe themselves as romantic but, what does that really mean in today’s world? I researched it and found that there are several words with the root “Roman”, among them romance and Romanesque and by the middle of the 18th century romantic was in common use as an adjective describing appreciation of the wonders of nature such as, sunsets and spectacular views. Gradually it was also used to describe a style of literature, music and visual arts. In fact, the period from the mid 18th century to the late 19th century came to be known as the “Romantic Era”. I gather that it was not an easy movement to define but, simply stated, it seems that it embodied the elevation of nature and validation of passionate, unfettered human emotion and creativity. It was actually a revolt against the scientific rationalization of nature. There was also a renewed appreciation of the high-minded medieval ideals of chivalry, heroism, and pure chaste love.

From a serious intellectual movement based on passionate feelings about the beauty of untamed nature, artistic creativity, individualism, and the idealization of chivalrous codes of conduct we have evolved (or perhaps devolved) to a very different definition of romantic. Today it is strictly used within the context of a love relationship between two people. It is the cliché of the single ad – “I love a romantic candlelit dinner and a long walk on the beach with that special someone”. (Did you ever wonder why the beaches aren’t crowded with droves of couples walking up and down?) Romantic means flowers, chocolate and a card on Valentine’s Day. It means a sappy love story. It means “our song”. The Romantic Era was a complicated philosophical and intellectual movement that affected not only the arts but also education and politics and we have boiled it down to a Match.com adjective!

Jane Austen, who was one of the important authors of the Romantic Era, wrote an interesting book called “Sense and Sensibility” about two sisters who have very different viewpoints regarding romantic love. It’s interesting because, now that I know a little bit about the philosophy of her era, I see that she was using her story to pit romanticism and rationalism against each other. The word sensibility was used at that time to describe a person who was ultra-sensitive and, therefore, more aware of beauty, moral truth, and the emotions of others. Supposedly, this type of person felt things more deeply and was, therefore, superior in some way. In the book Marianne “falls in love” with a man who affects her sensibilities with his handsome appearance, charming personality, and romantic gestures but he turns out to be all show and little substance. Today we might refer to him as a “player”. She is so swept away by her romantic feelings that she loses her sense; her objectivity. She mocks her sister, Eleanor, for not showing her feelings, implying that they couldn’t possibly be as deep as hers if she could keep them under control all the time. Eleanor had developed deep feelings for a man who is not quite as handsome, confident and charming but who is a person of honest character whose feelings are equally as deep as hers, although he is awkward and hesitant about expressing them. Jane Austen uses the characters to show us that all is not as it appears to be and, in fact, we can have very deep feelings for someone without losing our sense. She makes the case that romanticism and rationalism are not mutually exclusive. In other words, you don’t have to be irrational to appreciate romance. I have been the sensibility sister in past relationships and, although I enjoy romance as much as anyone else, if the situation ever presents itself again I want to be the sense sister next time. As always, when I think of a good relationship my parents come to mind – two people with lots of sense and enough romance thrown in the mix to still be holding hands and slow dancing alone in the garage in their 70’s. No drama, no flash, no histrionics – just deep love, respect, and lots of laughs. Until the day he died my father always introduced my mother as his bride. Now, that’s what I call romantic.    

Even though the word romantic has become linked with relationships, the Romantic Era was not about relationships; the movement focused on artistic imagination and the individual, and it prized intuition and emotion. It promoted a strong belief in the importance of nature, particularly its effect on the artist when alone and surrounded by it. Those feelings of awe and wonder and the connection to your spirituality that you feel when you observe the sunset or a beautiful natural scene are romantic – and you can enjoy them even when you are totally alone! The emotions that stir in my chest when I look at a great work of art or the Grand Canyon are romantic. My teary-eyed, lump-in-the-throat response to the “Star Spangled Banner” and the sight of our flag billowing in the wind is romantic. No doubt there is great enjoyment in sharing these things with someone you love but don’t fall into the trap of thinking romantic feelings are limited solely to a relationship. What if you never have another love relationship? Does that mean you will never feel passionately romantic about anything again? Life is full of deep, passionate, romantic emotions so don’t dilute them or suppress them just because you’re a “singleton”. Enjoy!

 Romantic: marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of the heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious or idealized; appreciation of external nature

Stella chillin' in the great outdoors

Stella chillin’ in the great outdoors

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions