It's 38 degrees. I should be at the beach but instead I'm stuck in a shopping line half a kilometer long. Mariah Carey assaults my ears as I hand my credit card to the cashier. She has the same blank look as the 10 others who have served me today, and I can't even muster my best fake smile.
Every year I tell my husband I'm not doing it again. I'm not doing Christmas. I tell him we should all pack a bag and fly far, far away and not return until January and maybe that could be the family present this year. He humors me. He knows as well as I do I'm not going anywhere. I wonder why I don't, and what is it that makes me stay when I hate this time of year so much.
Around me, faceless people push their way through the aisles. I walk out the shop with arms full of gifts, and I feel like the poster woman for hypocrisy. I talk of a simple, sustainable life away from materialism and corporatism and yet I so easily give in to the pressure. My homemade gifts no longer seem enough and I'm afraid to disappoint, to not live up to the invisible standard I measure myself against. I slip on my sunglasses, lower my head and hope nobody sees me.
At home, I sort the gifts and fight panic attacks over which family issues will rear their ugly heads this year. Because no matter how much I swear I won't let things affect me, they always do. I'm so damn tired of the mask I put on every year. The one where I pretend it's okay they make no effort for the other 364 days of the year. I'm tired of excuses, and the way I nod and smile and say it's okay, I understand. Because I don't. I really don't, and I never will.
And honestly, in the big scheme of things, I wonder what the point is.
The world lies in turmoil on the brink of war, but like everyone else at this time of year, I'll just pretend it's not happening. I'll pour another glass of wine and resume the status quo of eat, drink and be merry. I'll go through the motions, but my heart won't be in it.
Because somewhere along the way I've become so cynical. The horrors of this world have slowly pounded against my spirit and eroded the belief that people are good. I've been hurt so many times I'm scared to believe in love and peace and joy and all of those nicely wrapped things. And so as Christmas approaches, I don't even know what it means to me anymore. The only feeling I allow myself to hold tight to is apathy.
I glance at the clock and realize I'm late for yet another end of year event. My children's piano recital. Harried, I drive into town over the speed limit, praying I don't get a $420 fine like I did the week before Christmas last year. Which, by the way, went down a treat with the husband. Stressed, I arrive, and smile politely while silently resenting yet. another. obligation.
But then someone plays 'O Holy Night', majestically, strikingly, like I've never heard it before. The melody pierces through the armour around my heart. Beauty and light are stronger than darkness. The tears begin to fall, and a part of me is relieved to know my heart still beats.
Later that day, I watch my children decorate the Christmas tree, the excitement of them all, even the teenage boys who are unabashed in their joy. I swallow the lump in my throat as they work together; laugh, play. Though I feel hopeless in a world devoid of love and goodness, I gaze at those four people who radiate more love than I ever thought possible. I made them. I created those hearts within them. And I know because of them, the future will be less bleak.
When everyone else is tucked up in bed, I watch 'Love Actually' for the umpteenth time and cry more than I did last year. Because secretly, I know I still believe in happy endings. I wrap presents for my children and place them under the tree and smile when I think of their faces when they open them. Finally around midnight I turn out the lights and take one last look at the tree. It shines, glitters, radiates, and I am overcome with emotion.
Because I know somewhere in my heart is a place still untouched by the world. Here, I have the faith of a child. I believe in magic and in miracles, in restoration, in healing, in a more beautiful tomorrow.
I grab the feeling in my chest and hold it close. Hope.
And I know this is why I stay. I know this is why I will show up for Christmas again this year.
Because no matter how much the world has broken me, I still believe love wins.
You can find Kathy Parker on her website, This Girl Unraveled