Defrosting

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Some wonderful people just visited us over the holidays. They came all the way from Mexico City to spend Christmas in NYC. The added bonus was that although I am close friends with Marifer, I didn’t know the other two very well. But by the time they left, I felt I had two new chosen family members that I will cherish for a lifetime. Marifer’s mother Arin and brother Toño (an amazing photographer and artist) had never visited our beautiful city before, and they arrived months after the untimely and unexpected death of Fer and Toño’s father. Little did they know that they would have a rude welcome in the form of ridiculously cold temperatures. But intrepid is their middle name and we spent 10 days exploring the many beautiful spaces and places in the five boroughs, including grocery shopping in New Jersey. To heck with the cold!

We shared our holiday ritual of attending a Christmas pageant at the Church of the Heavenly Rest on Christmas Eve, followed by a dinner with cousins at a cozy Italian Restaurant. We shopped, cooked, chatted around the kitchen table and shouldered through holiday crowds at Rockefeller Center, Herald Square, and Times Square. We tramped up and down subway steps, dove for coveted seats on the #6 train, waved at the Statue of Liberty from the ferry, ate dumpling noodle soup in Chinatown, warmed our hands and tummies with coffee stops along the way, trekked into museums, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station, The public library at 42nd street, the Empire State Building, Bemelman’s Bar, Trinity Church on Wall Street, and B&H Photo midtown. We took a carriage ride through Central Park, viewed the Christmas lights of Dyker Heights, and enjoyed Shake Shack burgers. They topped off the trip on their last day by treating us to scaling the Freedom Tower via the time lapsing elevator ride to the observatory.

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All in all, a pretty incredible week. There was one thing that we had to work around though – our freezer drawer froze shut in a solid block of ice due to a broken water hose connected to the ice maker. It took 12 full days to defrost, and we had to balance our adventures with checking in and emptying pans of runoff water to prevent flooding and mayhem. In what felt like the grip of an ice age, it was almost impossible to imagine that the freezer drawer would ever open again.

And then, before the drawer even opened, they left. They had the nerve to go back to the more moderate climes of Mexico.

A familiar rush of emotion rolled over me – I call it separation anxiety and there is a historical basis for it. I link the surging adrenaline and profound sadness to my early childhood experience of lengthy hospitalizations (2 months at birth and many more throughout my childhood). In those years, doctors did not allow parental presence overnight or for procedures, and my parents unwillingly left me alone for long periods of time. To this day, I weep and feel extraordinarily vunerable whenever I say goodbye to my parents and close friends. The separation anxiety sets in a few days before the parting, rearing its ugly head and tightening my chest against the inevitable pain.

But I have learned a lot over the years.

  • First: The pain always dissipates.  It feels crushing and paralyzing at  first. In those initial moments, it seems that it will never be okay again, that the emotions are permanently etched into every waking moment of my life. But this is not the truth, and the pain gets a bit less with each passing day, and in particularly good times with each passing hour.
  • Second: Even though I have a unique personal history, many other people suffer from this kind of agony. Talking to someone who really gets it normalizes the feeling, helps ameliorate the intensity, and lessens the shame and self flagellation that can accompany it.
  • Third: Your average person can feel down around any holiday, especially if they have suffered a loss.  Depression and/or anxiety can naturally follow even pleasant holiday experiences.
  • Fourth: Despite the intensity of my suffering, I would never choose to avoid it by giving up friendship, intimacy, and community. The gain is always worth what follows, and the sun always rises after. Like Florence and the Machine sing, “It’s always darkest before the dawn!
  • Fifth: For any clinician working with families, or anyone who knows someone suffering a horrible loss, we can reflect hope and faith in the return of joy even in the midst of pain. We can give permission for all emotions and refrain from enforcing an arbitary expiration date on the grieving process.

So, hail to all you hardy souls out there, who love in the face of loss and suffering, who choose to walk through life with an open heart. And for anyone who hesitates, but considers it, try taking a leap of faith in the ultimate defrosting process. The light and warmth will return, and the seasons of life will always sprinkle some joy amidst the sorrows.

 

 

Kindness as a De-stressor for the Holiday Season

 

Whether or not you are a Christian, the month of December descends upon many of us all with an overload of stress: pressing consumerism, forced merriness, and social and family expectations that can make us feel less than and despairing in so many ways. We can lose sight of the sense of hope that the season is meant to embody, the acceptance of darkness before the dawn, the preparing and waiting for the light, the igniting of that light within ourselves and others, all in the maelstrom of media messages.

Well, today, I am thankful for this calendar that I found on social media, and I want to share it with all of you, I see it as a template. It might be a wonderful activity for you to do alone, with children, or with family members. If you make your own kindness calendar, you can add to it acts of kindness that hold specific meaning for you and are within your reach to accomplish. You can place a piece of oaktag or cardboard over it and cut out little doors and windows to open each day.

Just contemplating this activity makes me think of kindnesses I have witnessed in the recent and not so recent past.

A fellow teacher had a particularly bad day when a troubled student lost control, trashed the classroom and scratched the teacher’s face. My assistant teacher, Elizabeth, entered her colleague’s classroom during her lunch break to find her fellow teacher crying. Elizabeth quietly went about the room, righting chairs, picking up toys, and straightening up the chaos. Then she went to the nearby market and brought back some chocolate. These gestures spoke so much louder than words of consolation might have.

At a family gathering in the basement of a local Baptist church, where parents and children worked on arts and crafts, a family struggled with finding positive ways to respond to their preschooler. I watched as each parental admonition ratcheted up the child’s resistance and anger. For a few moments, my friend, Edna, joined the child in play, and gave him some gentle, corralling, positive feedback, helping him to self regulate and giving the parents a break.

On the city bus, a loud and hostile argument broke out between two passengers, fueled by both, but with one person definitely being more aggressive. As his voice grew louder and louder, an elderly lady finally stood up, and approached the yeller. “You need to stop,” she said. “It’s not okay to use that kind of language.” Once she spoke up, others did as well, and the situation calmed down.

A nurse responds to my tears of fear facing chemotherapy by putting down her medical implements, drawing her chair up to mine, taking my hands in hers and telling me that God will help me bear whatever I must face.

A yoga teacher guided our class in breathing with intention and awareness yesterday. He said that when we breathe for ourselves, we are breathing for all of our loved ones, and for all humanity. When we feel so overwhelmed that even breathing feels like a colossal task, it does help to know that it is enough, and that breathing can be more than a self sustaining act. Breathing can sustain others. So whether your acts of kindnesses are as simple as breathing, or a single word, a glance, a gesture, it is all within your grasp to ignite the light of loving kindness in yourself and others, one act and one day at a time.