A Jackie Kennedy Day: First World Problems
This past Sunday was noteworthy for two reasons.
First, it was the 52nd Anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. I’ve been watching the news footage and the documentaries on this historic event all week, like I do every year, and I always go back to one thing in my mind: “What must it have been like for that poor woman? How do you ever get over witnessing something like that?”
And the second reason it’s noteworthy is because for the fifth year in a row, this week I again began aggressively planning how to be anywhere but home on Christmas.
November is when I really start to feel down in the dumps. By December, I am actively crossing off the days of the calendar until I can finally put the whole tortured month behind me altogether. For me, December is one big sequence of painful memories and sad losses, recollections that cause me to wake up each day feeling pretty sorry for myself.
Then I see the footage of Mrs. Kennedy on television as she cradles her husband in her lap after he’d just been ASSASSINATED and I think, “Well, I’ve never had a day like that, thankfully,” and I shift my perspective quite a bit and say a small prayer of thanks for the good things in my life.
There is always someone who is hurting more than you are. More than I am.
I’ve experienced a respectable amount of trauma and loss, so much so that it has rendered an entire novel. Many people have said they know of no one with as much sadness in their lives as I have had (and then I wonder ‘why would you say that to someone?’). But I know people with more, a lot more actually, and I can always manage a way to find thankfulness for what I do have instead of focusing only on what I’ve lost.
That’s what we all need to do more of: shift our perspective. There is always, always someone who is hurting more than you are. More than I am.
I’ve never lost a parent. Some of you who have, and some who may have lost both of them, well the holidays haven’t been the same for you since that loss. Would you trade your pain for mine? I doubt it. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t possibly understand what it feels like to spend Christmas without someone I love. I can. But while you might be watching “The Polar Express” with your children, I am doing absolutely everything in my power to avoid that particular movie because it’s so painfully tied to a sad memory, and it’s quite hard to escape during the month of December, if I’m honest.
My very busy child is rarely home during any of his extended vacations from school. This adds to my woes because I sit around for a lot of hours thinking about all the full houses that my friends have, with kids coming home from college and little ones making Christmas cookies and circling pictures of toys in the Sears catalog. Then I remember an article I read last month about this man in New York City who never married or had children and he lived alone practically his entire life. They found him weeks after he passed away because no one ever missed him. What were his Christmases like? I bet mine are a lot better.
When I see or hear about something that’s worse than my woes, I always try to alter my perspective on all that I have to be thankful for. I try to be happy that I have an active and busy child who loves living his life in the outdoors, surrounded by men and sports and friends… all the good stuff that makes men like him happy, even if it takes him away from me on the holidays. That’s something many people would love to have and those thoughts lift my spirits every time.
I’ve never lost a child and to actually know someone who has, on the day after Christmas to be exact, completely alters the gravity of my own pity party each year. All I ever need to do when I’m wallowing is to remember that I have friends who spend their Christmases at grave sites and it’s at about that moment that I look around and say “Thank you Lord for the blessings I have. I would sit through a million Polar Expresses to give my friend her child back, to give my mother her parents back, to bring my friend’s only son home from across the country where he had to move with his job, to bring my neighbor’s husband back from war, or to bring my friend’s wife home from the hospital where she is battling breast cancer on what will probably be her last Christmas.”
The holidays bring out both the best and worst in us. No one would deny that the birth of Christ is the reason we even have this holiday in the first place but how much of our energy is really spent on all the other things besides the recognition of that event? Almost all of it. Grocery shopping and toy hoarding, garland hanging and house cleaning for company, shopping to the point of crippling debt…why? Are those the things that really matter?
Stop. Make your holidays mean more. Remember others. Give the gift of your conversation and not just new stuff for people. Think of others. Remember those who don’t have as many loved ones around and do something about that. I don’t mean soup kitchens and volunteering, although those are wonderful things. I mean phone calls and visits. Do you know someone who is alone? Call them. Do you know someone who is hurting, lonely or grieving? Go see them. Do you know of a day coming up when a hug might do someone some good because Christmas isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for them? Give that hug to them. That’s what Christmas spirit is all about, but we often don’t stop to spread it at all, at least not in this way.
So today I admit, my worst day has never, ever been as bad as Jackie Kennedy’s worst day and the older I get, the more I find that the things I want can’t be bought. It takes just a second to shift my paradigm and find a bit of gratitude. I hope I don’t witness temper tantrums and angry words in the stores this shopping season because those people always make me want to shake them senseless and yell “What is wrong with you? Be grateful, and thankful and know you are blessed! Lots of people would love to have your problems!” Dropping the turkey is not a real problem. Fighting with your grumpy uncle over the Syrians as you eat your cranberry sauce is not a real problem. Counting on your hands the number of presents you’ve bought your children and actually worrying that it’s not enough is NOT a real problem. Our problems, if we really stack them up against what some other people face are probably not real problems. So let’s be thankful, I mean FOR REAL, for this Thanksgiving, in this year, living in this great nation, during this full life we get to call our own and in giving thanks let’s give others something from us to be thankful for, too.
Click here to give back. I did. Salvation Army