On a gray December Saturday when I was about 10 years old, my family and I were in the car, traveling dusty Texas backroads to see my mother’s cousins for an early Christmas gathering.
All four of us were quarreling about something – who knows what – and stopped to get gas and a cold drink. My father and sister went into the store to get the drinks, and my mother turned to me and said, “You expect Christmas to be all bright and shiny and green and red and sparkly … and sometimes it’s just kind of … orange.”
Ever since that day, the phrase “just kind of orange” has been part of our family’s code language. It means “calm down. Remember to breathe. Adjust your expectations. It won’t be what you thought, but somehow it will be all right.”
I remember that story every year, often in early November.
We’ve been hearing the relentlessly happy, upbeat holiday music since the day after Halloween. The ornaments and decoration escaped from their storage boxes in the attic and appeared on the streets and the neighbors’ front lawns shortly thereafter. We are collectively gearing up for the annual celebration of love, peace, joy and good will – according to one of the songs, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
Except when it isn’t.
This is the time of year in which many of us find ourselves decidedly out of sorts, stressed and anxious. We are told in countless ways that we “should” feel certain things, but we don’t. In reaction, we might try to purchase peace of mind by buying too many and too costly gifts for loved ones. We might eat too much, drink too much or turn to other potentially harmful behaviors, hoping to soothe our own emotional discomfort.
The pressure to be the perfect family, host the perfect holiday event, serve the perfect meal or gather the members of the household for a perfectly delightful reunion perpetually reasserts itself. It cannot be done – and we know that in our saner moments – but the pressure surrounds us nonetheless.
For many, this will be a season full of First Withouts: the first Thanksgiving, the first New Year, the first holiday without Mom, or Dad, or spouse or beloved friend. It will be the first time without that person at the dining table, in the crowded kitchen, on the couch in the den watching football, in the places that have been “theirs” for so long. For others, the closing of 2012 might bring to mind a long-ago loss that is still a source of grief. There may be many such sources which come together now in the final days of the year.
Regardless of where they come from, or how old or irrational they may be, the stresses and sorrows come. They gather in the corners of our hearts and minds, piling up one on top of another, until they threaten to cascade down on every side and bury us. To all these interlopers, these thieves of peace, the best response is the same: Be kind.
Be kind to yourself, whenever you feel whatever you feel.
Be kind to others, and know that perhaps they are feeling these things also.
Calm down. Remember to breathe. Adjust your expectations.
It’s okay to be “just kind of orange” for now.
A rabbi of the early modern era interpreted the teachings of the elders to his disciples: “Love God with your heart and mind and soul and strength; love your neighbor as yourself. All the rest is commentary.”
To love others as we love ourselves; to love others as we want to be loved; to treat one another (ourselves included) kindly and gently in days that are overfilled and overstressed – this simple act might be the greatest gift we can give. We give it to one another; and in giving it, we receive it back again.
This year, maybe “just kind of orange” will be just right.
THE REV. JASON HADDOX IS THE RECTOR OF ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN AUGUSTA.