Dumaguete — The holidays can be the best of times, but it can be the worst of times as well.
The holiday season is synonymous with family, revelry, reunions and fun. And it can be fun for the most part. A time when you reunite and reconnect with loved ones and friends whom you hardly see the rest of the year. It’s wonderful if relations and the dynamics are warm, fuzzy, and peachy. But what if they’re not?
Many people struggle with surges of loneliness during December. Historically, Suicide attempt rates shoot up in this month of merrymaking. It doesn’t help, that in a country like ours, we are reminded that it’s Christmas everywhere you turn, everywhere you look. You have nowhere to hide.
The people who feel the pangs of loneliness the most are those for whom Christmas is not a festive time but rather a constant reminder of what is lacking in their lives. The recent or not so recent death of a loved, the end of a relationship, fractious family dynamics, the feeling of being alone in a sea of relatives for whom you feel hardly any connection at all.
What then can one do if you’re feeling lonely or blue this holiday season?
First, you can opt to do Christmas by yourself or choose the people you want to be with this Christmas. You are under no obligation to be at the mercy of relatives and feel the pressure of having to belong, or smiling your way and being polite through interminable family reunions. Putting up a brave and happy front can be exhausting.
You can instead, select who you want to be with. Celebrate the birth of the Christ child in whatever way you wish to with those for whom Christmas becomes a more meaningful and joy filled event.
Next, at some point in the days leading to Christmas, you can hop on a plane, get on a ferry, a bus, or your car and go some place where you’ve never been. Ideally, it should be close to nature — the beach, a forest, the mountains — whatever location makes your heart happy and brings you closer to God. Hotel and bnb rates, and air fares are still pretty much ok between now and around the 20th of December.
I’m in San Jose, Negros Oriental as I write this. In a quiet bed and breakfast perched on a hill that Iooks out into the sea. The place is called Wuthering Heights (WH). I know, it’s a story with a tragic ending, but there’s nothing sad about this place. My bedroom faces the sea, and every morning, the dramatic Dumaguete sunrise gently wakes me from a deep sleep. All day long I am lulled by the sound of undulating waves that caress the shore. The volume varies depending on whether it’s high tide or low tide. It’s a lullabye that plays on loop all day long.
The holidays this year have been a very trying time for me, for various reasons. But here, where I am, I have been gifted once more with the clarity I came to seek, and the strength and courage I need for the road ahead. Time spent one early morning at Lake Balinsasayao, one of the largest and most beautiful lakes in our country reminded me that though the journey may be difficult, nothing beautiful and good ever domes easy. A double rainbow appearing against dreary grey skies outside my bedroom on an overcast afternoon, was a double affirmation for me of God’s promises that all shall be well. And all the quiet moments here at WH has given me the much needed time my spirit had been looking for to collect my thoughts, to pray, and quiet my mind and heart. I am so glad that I decided to drop everything for a few days and fly here. Sometimes, you must really listen to your heart, and at all times always let God lead, entrusting the timing of all things to Him.
Another option, if you’re struggling with loneliness this season is to go seek other people who may be lonelier than you and be of service to them. Huh? “But won’t that drag me down even further?” No. The act of reaching out and giving of time, self, and resources is very healing and enriching. Go to the “fringes” as the Pope suggests. Be with the abandoned, the elderly, the orphaned, the sick, children with special needs, unwed mothers, pets with no homes, the list is endless. Go help those whom your heart leads you too.
Remember the significance of the season — the Christ child was born and made human so he could live with us, feel and and suffer with us, and later on die to pay for all of our debts, to free and save of all of us. No matter how lonely or bleak, stressful, or challenging the holidays might be for you this year, focus on the Star — let His birth give you the hope that you need, let it inspire you to be courageous, to reach out, and to lead you back home, whatever that might mean for you, or wherever that might be.
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