Christmas, the Rare, Acoustic Version

cardinalDriving from one roast beef dinner to another on the day after Christmas we heard an early acoustic version of one of my favorite songs, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” by the Police.

The stripped down version was a little creepy and certainly felt like it was lacking something as Sting meandered through those “thousand rainy days since we first met.” Suddenly there was real sorrow in being turned on and you wonder what quality of love it is that will “go on and on and on.”

It was the other side of unrequited passion, the sort with a raspy throat after too many lonely tears. There is such bitter joy in watching the beloved from afar, because as magic as she may be, it is so wasted at a distance from the man who pines for her.

What a meditation on sorrow in the afterglow of a Christmas surrounded by family and feasting and a midnight mass with comforting carols and radiant poinsettias and glowing evergreens!

Perhaps it makes sense that this Christmas would seem a little subdued to me and I would find messages in an introspective, alternate take of a rock song. This year I approached December 25th with a new reverence as I began to understand what Mary giving birth to Jesus really means for me. I set much of the maddened consumer rush aside, and found my holiday in meditation and prayer, not in a roll of gift wrap.

This sense of slowing things down and tasting the real essence of Christmas rather than being distracted by the icing on the gingerbread men offers so much, but it also forces you to gaze into some of the shadows of self and family life that are usually disguised by trimmings and bows and those extra few glasses of wine. I’m not going to get into my own dramas here, but I am sure that we all have years when the unexpected confronts us and what we expect to be most magical evening of the year becomes an opportunity to practice all that we have learned the rest of the year.

Recognizing that everyone is entitled to their own complexity and respecting the universe within them.

Acting with compassion as your guide rather than operating under the illusions of expectation and entitlement.

Finding peace in stillness rather than the laughter of the crowd.

Not being afraid of the spaces between notes or the pauses between conversations.

Trusting that everything is going to be alright.

And, most of all, remembering that everything She does really is magic and believing in a little divine intervention to keep the familial ship afloat.

Oh, and finding the happy, well-known version of your favorite song featuring short shorts and funny hats just might just might help too!

Deciphering the Shape of My Heart

Reflecting on my day as I drove home tonight I thought about compassion fatigue, a phrase I was first introduced to while at a disappointing writing workshop that seemed less about language and more about the airing one’s pain. In this situation, the women and I who rebelled and decided to sit in the sun rather than listen to people recount their childhood horrors in prose (which were most probably valid, though such narratives had much more to do with therapy than with wordsmithery and we wished to discuss the latter) really could not stand any more tales of fathers who never told their daughters they were pretty. We excused ourselves by declaring that we had paid for another sort of week entirely and that we fielded quite enough suffering in our workaday lives.

Roofus - stock.xchngSince I am not actually a professional caregiver, I probably have very little claim to compassion fatigue in what seems to be an official sense (I cannot speak for this website as I just stumbled on it, but apparently people are putting a great deal of thought into the subject). At the same time, I think anyone who pays much mind to the news these days must suffer from at least form of this nebulous syndrome. There are of course two options: absorbing reality television that has absolutely nothing to do with reality but quite a bit to do with avarice and cruelty best left on the playground, and actually doing something about the darkness in the world.

Actually, I take that back, there are many choices that lay between being a couch potato and quitting one’s job to help rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward. I must imagine that there are countless people who, much like me, would consider themselves to be decent creatures hoping to propagate some goodness and peace, yet are conscious of the risk of walking around with an open heart. How can one pass through the day and fulfill family obligations and hold the job that is expected of her if she is constantly consumed by all that is wrong out there? Perhaps these thoughts betray my own cowardice, but I fear I am not alone in my inability to act in the face of so many environmental crises and people in desperate need.

But I had to remind myself that there is so much to do without getting pulled out by the riptide of despair into an unmanageable sea of an imperfect planet. It all starts with the existence I actually do inhabit each day. That was when I started singing “Shape of My Heart” from Sting’s Ten Summoner’s Tales (an album that, along with Fumbling Towards Ecstasy set the course of my high school soul). Something about love hidden beneath a gambler’s hand, passion masked by a card player’s face… My love for this world buried beneath what is expected and what needs to get done and who needs to be pleased – I am meant to be witty and a bit sarcastic and please the crowd with a punchline rather than with sweetness.

Really though, who is truly served if I berate myself for staying in and writing these words instead of volunteering my time somewhere or sacrificing all that I know for those who need me “more”? Isn’t there enough to do in living the truth of my heart and being profligate with my compassion to enrich the lives of those around me?