Overused expressions from popular culture are to be avoided in general, often repeated as they are to the point of becoming trite. But I can think of no more appropriate phrase for this post than that of John Lennon in his song “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” An unfortunate side effect of the holidays (which begins for me the moment Halloween decorations hit store shelves) is the occurrence of lulls in the in-betweens. The three month period for which the Halloween season and New Year’s Day serve as bookends may be viewed as an imaginary mountain range. The peaks in this range are the calendar holidays themselves, and they are connected by a lengthy trail which requires time and patience in the ascent of each peak but then plunges precipitously down the other side, dipping into the mundane. An irony of this festive time of year is that what is considered mundane–the ordinary chores, the routine tasks, the minutiae of the workday–begins to feel even more so. Jobs become drudgerous with much clock-watching. Occupations that allow for little time off during the holidays can even become sources of bitterness. We who appreciate this part of the year juggle conflicting feelings of eagerness for cherished traditions with the fear that they will end too quickly.
So here is a challenge to myself and to anyone else who struggles with finding a balance between these special days and all the tedium-laced, unremarkable ones that surround them. Let go. Halloween, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve will take care of themselves. The embedded psychological weight of each of these all but insists on their prominence on the calendar. Keep traditions, but understand that they will endure without excess of effort and anxiety. The preparation of food or the purchase of gifts may be necessary, but fretting over making the day memorable is not. Instead, direct that energy into embracing the in-betweens.
Nature is a worthwhile place to start. Fall colors peaked weeks ago, and a majority of hardwoods have lost their leaves, but throughout Middle Tennessee there are little pockets of color–solitary maples clinging stubbornly to their bright reds and yellows, which appear all the more dazzling amid the encroaching browns and grays of the surrounding trees. To a willing mind, even the browns and grays have their charms. A line of bare branches, when positioned opposite the sun, has a way of softening the waning rays of dusk into a mellow red-orange glow, which in turn is complemented by a paled and deepening turquoise sky, quilted with magenta-pink cirrocumulus clouds.
Cold nights are here, yet there is an alternative to bemoaning the onset of early darkness. When the premature sunset fools us into thinking the hour is late, shift focus to the comforts of home. Home can be a loaded concept, but hopefully it is a positive one. Perhaps it implies family, but it also can imply warmth and refuge. In the abstract, home may imply a place inside ourselves, where we are able to retreat regardless of our physical environment.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, the mountain peak at which we arrive this week, I suggest one last way to ease the anxiety of the mundane (and I do it with another potentially overused phrase): count your blessings. Loosen your grip on tomorrow’s ambitions and take stock of what you already have. Everyone has something, and most of us have much. Inevitably, the in-betweens will be sweetened, and an impulse toward generosity may just reveal itself.