December is over and all the hopes and plans for new beginnings are upon us.
For me, December is a time for reflection, and I’ll share some of my thoughts before moving on to January—a time for action!
What is December?
No other month of the year has the stark contrasts of December.
December means Christmas and holidays, of course. Physically, December’s contrasts are obvious. The outside environment is dark many hours of out twenty-four. It can be a time of bitter cold, gently falling snow, or miserable rain. We turn indoors for festive lights, warmth, the aromas of pine trees, mulled wine, and baked treats. Indoors we find lots of company, whether at crowded malls or theatre performances or friends’ parties.
The psychological contrasts of December are opposite to the physical ones. Outwardly, December is a time of joy and love. The deepest message of Christmas is a non-commercial meaning of giving. Christians believe that Jesus was a gift from God to us, and Jesus atones for our sins. But whatever your faith, you can probably believe in the kind of giving that means giving of ourselves: our time, our gratitude, our love—not only to our families and friends, but to those who are truly in need.
The psychological underbelly of December is the despair that can come to those who are alone; possibly poor, sick, or suffering from addiction. The brightness and good fortune that appear to belong to others makes physical or spiritual deprivation seem especially bitter. The hostility of the outdoor world only adds to the desperation.
December is both extravert and introvert, and perhaps people experience this month differently depending on their temperament.
To me, it’s the introspective side of December that best matches my nature. It’s a time of reflection, when I can often be happy indoors, by myself, reading and writing. But music is essential for the times when being alone turns to loneliness. Lately I’ve been listening to Leonard Cohen songs constantly.
But I’m too restless and energetic to stay inside for long, no matter what the weather. I celebrate the outdoors however I can. I have two favourite kinds of December days. The first is when snow is falling heavily and even ordinary or familiar places are transformed into magical settings. I love the way snow muffles sounds and everything is peaceful.
The second kind of December days I like (not available in most of Canada) are the cold but dazzling sunny ones when there is no snow and I can go for bike rides on the PoCo trail and the dikes. The December sun, so low in the sky, is rare and beautiful like a jewel. December’s sunny days are not sleepy and lazy like summer’s—or mellow like October’s—they are bracing, heady, energizing, times to be seized and enjoyed during their few brief hours.
I won’t be going to Mexico or Hawaii to avoid this season’s darkness, rain, and snow. I’m sure I would love to be there if I could, and I understand the desire to escape from Canada in the winter, especially when it rains for 15 days in a row.
Yet I’m content to be here and appreciate whatever December throws at me. I’m aware of daily and seasonal cycles and I don’t want to miss anything. How could I love summer as much as I do if I didn’t keep the memory of December’s bitter cold and darkness in my bones?
As Sheryl Crow’s song says,
It’s not having what you want
It’s wanting what you’ve got
—“Soak Up The Sun” (irony anyone?)
December 2016’s nadir
This December I had some especially low points. My partner Keith’s hip surgery was a difficult time and I felt guilty about not being able to help him more. Multiple pressures and uncertainties in my life were exacerbating my problems with insomnia; lack of sleep affects mood; it can become a vicious circle. Then the weather made it impossible to enjoy my scenic bike rides and short runs, depriving me of my favourite mood-changer…
December’s final spiteful act was to send a snowstorm on New Year’s Eve. I endured a knuckle-whitening drive to Keith’s (he still can’t drive) so we could spend the next couple of days together. Our dinner was late that night, but overshadowing my exhaustion was a huge sense of gratefulness for making it home safely.
I don’t know how it is but my spirits always come back up like a yo-yo returning to its home. There was a day last week when I slept especially badly. Leaving the rec centre after yet another lab-rat gym workout, I couldn’t take my usual enjoyable meandering walk home via the Inlet. No, it was cold and raining miserably. I had to concentrate fully on my feet as I walked along the icy path. Once I reached clear pavement, though, my mind could be free, and that was when I noticed I felt strong and positive again. Undoubtedly it was partly the endorphins my workout had sparked. But it was also a conscious gratitude for some of the good things and people in my life. For my health, especially, during this month when there have been so many celebrity deaths, friends suffering from terrible flus, and Keith’s hip surgery.
My good spirits come from something else that is a mystery. It’s when I feel assurance of my own strength. It’s when I can accept and love myself despite my faults, failures, and times of agonizing doubt. It’s recognizing that I have something more valuable than money or possessions: a capacity to feel joy, and people to share it with.
New Year’s Day
Vancouver’s reward for the previous day’s storm was a New Year’s Day of breathtaking white beauty. What a perfect start to the New Year! I got out to run outside and Keith did his longest walk since his hip surgery three weeks ago. There is no need for more words: I hope I can share some of my New Year’s optimism with some of yesterday’s photos.