Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On Winter Weeds (or A General Sense of Apathy)

In the area of the Southeast in which I reside, it is not uncommon to have warm days throughout the winter. These are usually followed within one to three days by significantly colder temperatures. And yes, the same cycle then begets warmer days again. Except for the period from mid-January to the end of February, which I typically refer to as our “six weeks of winter”. But since it is now just mid-December, we are still well within those warming-cooling cycles.

All of this talk about the weather brings me to the title of this post. You see, in many areas of our country the ground freezes and either stays frozen or freezes repeatedly throughout the winter so that most of the vegetation dies off, save that of the evergreen variety. Where I live, even when we have significant cold spells, the annuals and most flowering perennials die back in the winter, as do the summer and fall weed varieties. There are, however, certain weeds that not only survive the winter, but seem to thrive.

I was reminded of these weeds as I stood in the yard with the dog this morning before work on what turned out to be a relatively mild December day for us. These winter weeds have already overtaken a portion of the flower bed just off the back porch, directly below a rose bush which is uncharacteristically still in bloom (I think this may be a first). They have grown taller than the remaining stems of the perennials there and have begun to spill over the border stones and into the yard. If they keep it up, I will have to mow sometime in January to combat their advance.

Stay with me here, I do have a point.

What struck me about my winter weeds on this particular morning, is that they are an allegory for what I have been experiencing lately. An anomaly of sorts, if you will. You see, it defies logic that weeds should flourish in the winter. We are taught from an early age that in the cycle of the seasons spring is the time of birth and life, and winter is the time of dormancy and death. So why, then, do my weeds thrive throughout the winter?

Just as winter is typically looked upon as a bleak period within the cycle of a year, Christmas is looked upon as the high point in the cycle of holidays on the traditional American calendar. It is meant to be a time of extreme happiness, love, and togetherness.

So why am I just not feeling it this year?

In the eight years since I married and was subsequently widowed, I have always had the house completely decorated and ready for Christmas no later than the first weekend in December, depending on whether we were home for Thanksgiving or away visiting family. I finally put my tree up a week ago Saturday. It’s a small tree and does not require many lights, but I found when I reached the third string they no longer worked and I no longer had any spare strings on hand. So I went to the store and bought some the next day. But still, the tree sat unplugged with two strands of lights for another week before I actually strung the third set.

Now, I could argue that it wasn’t really my fault that it took so long to get the lights on the tree. And I would be partially correct. Sometime in October I was approached about acting in our church’s Christmas play. I had never been asked as it was usually a children’s performance, but this production called largely for adult actors, and I was happy to have been a part of it. As it turns out, the part I was asked to play was typecasting at its best. I played the part of a thirty-something, divorced middle child who was having a hard time accepting that his wife didn’t want it to work and having to handle his kids on his own (though he had two and it was a joint custody situation). So even though there were some discrepancies, the sense of loss he experienced was similar. Incidentally, there was a widower in the play, but he was my character’s sixty-something father and though I’m graying at an alarming rate, I don’t quite look that part just yet.

Overall, the play was a great experience and came together really well. But it also required a great deal of time for practices, including all of that Saturday morning and most of Sunday before the actual performance. There were some additional changes that took up another part of that weekend, but that will have to wait for a future post.

The week that ensued was both incredibly busy and extremely exhausting, so we did not get any decorating (or posts to this blog) done then either. So this past Saturday I made it a priority to get the tree decorated. As of right now, the tree is decorated complete with ornaments, ribbon, and working lights and all of the nativities are up. But I still have a few snowmen to place and the outside lights to hang.

And Christmas is just over a week away.

Which brings me to my next area of neglect. It is not uncommon for me to still have shopping to do this close to Christmas. It is, however, quite uncommon for me to have barely scratched the surface this late in the game. I tried three nights last week and came home frustrated and empty-handed (except for a birthday gift, which doesn’t quite seem to count) every time. So tonight I forced myself to make a list and go to the store. I let my daughter pick out gifts for some of her cousins and friends for whom we buy, but that was about as much as I could stand. Thursday we will go pick out teacher gifts (her last day of school is Friday) and tomorrow I have to attempt to complete her shopping between work and time to pick her up.

And let’s not forget about the Christmas cards. Yes, I still send out Christmas cards every year and I actually don’t mind doing so for the most part. But this year it took me forever to even go buy the things, and they are sitting on my kitchen table still in the shrink-wrap as I type. The plan is to attack those this weekend, but it may just turn out that some people don’t receive their cards until after the big day.

So why am I so far behind on everything this year? Is it that grief is overwhelming me to a point that I just can’t cope with these things? Nope (not on a conscious level, at least). Is it that I am so busy and tired that I haven’t the time to take care of them? Maybe, but I don’t that’s the most likely reason.

Okay, so what is going on already?

I think the culprit in this case is that I simply haven’t wanted to. I haven’t been “feeling” Christmas at all this year. And I don’t seem to be alone in this. It seems that every time I talk to anyone about Christmas in general, they tend to be experiencing similar feelings. Or perhaps, the lack thereof. I have remarked more than one time over the past several days that Christmas is going to come whether we are ready for it or not. But it really saddens me that there has been so much less joy in it for me this year.

And I don’t know who or what is to blame. It could be the effect that the economy is having on people, which is some ways might be even greater than it was at this time last year. It could be that the new administration has not been as successful at implementing positive changes as many had hoped. It could be a general sense of despair that seems to be directly linked to that. It could be that Christmas has become so commercialized and politically correct that we feel like there is little enjoyment to be had from its celebration. It could be any of these things. It could be all of them. Or it could be something completely unrelated. I simply do not know.

One thing I do know is that Christmas will look a lot different for us this year. We will still celebrate at our house on Christmas Day and head back to the Midwest after that. But due to some issues which occurred last Christmas, neither of my brothers will be coming “home” to celebrate this year. I won’t go into the reasons or how valid or ludicrous they might be here, but the bottom line is that on top of my general sense of apathy surrounding Christmas this year, physical components of certain celebrations will be noticeably absent. And I would be lying if I said that wasn’t going to be hard.

“So suck it up” you might say. You’re the guy who was widowed before thirty. You live 800 miles from your nearest relative and you’re continuing to raise your young daughter single-handedly. How can subtle changes make things any worse? How can this Christmas be any harder than the first one without her?

I don’t know that this Christmas will be worse, but I do know that any level of change, especially within the family structure, reminds me of how completely precarious life can be. And it drives home the fact that my wife is no longer physically a part of all of this.

I said earlier that I didn’t think this was all coming from an overwhelming sense of grief. And I meant it. But I failed to mention then that I believe it’s coming.

And I am simply bracing myself as best I can for its impact.


  1. i understand about changes within a family's structure, and it can hit you in the back of the knees. missing your wife and seeing another Christmas coming lowers your resistance. so with your brothers not coming "home," Christmas has been altered yet again. it's not you. it's not Christmas. it's your reactions to all the cumulative events that have happened. try as we might, Currier and Ives would be hard pressed to find that perfect little scene to paint. and our expectations are challenged each year. sometimes by death. sometimes by family quarrels.

    i understand about that. i lost my brother to my conversion to Catholicism. he had not spoken to me in several years. i called when my Dragon died, but to my dismay, he had not forgotten where he'd buried his hatchet. *sigh* so i have to let it go. it is a loss i deeply regret yet it is over something i cannot nor will not undo.

    i am sorry you do not feel "Christmasy." i wish with all my heart that we could all pick a December from our past where it was a perfect as it could possibly be. and then relive it once more. but you are a good father and a decent person and in this world, that is very high praise. i wish for you and your daughter, peace.

  2. Sounds like this may be the perfect time for some 'new' traditions. I try to always look for the good in any given situation. So with all of the changes in our own home this year, the kids and I will be starting up something new, just for us. One of their gifts is going to be a new game that we will play together through out the day. It's nothing big, but it's something we will do that will make for some happy memories.

  3. I havent been feeling it this year either. But that's mainly because, I think, it felt like this year really flew for me, moreso than the last several. I dont know why. Maybe I was just really busy. If so, though, I dont have much to show for my busy-ness. So I dunno. I totally forgot it was Christmas while I was on vacation skiing last week. Skiing always happens in the winter so there's nothing particularly Christmas-y about it. I was occasionally reminded when I saw a decorated tree or a wreath in the ski lodges...

    I think I'm generally tired of being alone. I wasted the last year on a relationship that was destined to fail. And it came crashing down to epic disaster about a week before I left on vacation. So maybe that also contributed to my lack of excitement in feeling the Christmas spirit.

  4. Split,
    I think it goes like this. As well as honouring family and religion, Christmas often feels like a celebration of hope and dreams.

    The dreams may have changed, even if the hope has not. But the sheer excitement of the season is bound to pall, I think.

    Same goes for the sense of obligation in putting up the decorations and sending out those cards. And I should know, as I'm still writing mine right now.

    Best wishes from snowy London, and spirits up.

  5. The second Christmas was the worst Christmas I ever had. At almost two years you would have thought it was easier. But after the first year, the reality of the situation makes itself known. We are out of our first year shock. We've experienced seconds of everything. People we know expect everything to be better. It really isn't and won't be.

    Look for things of comfort this year and the next. I hope you find peace and hope in the coming years. Take all the time you need.

  6. WNS - It would be nice if we could all pick a Christmas past and relive it. I like that idea. As for family quarrels, these are all things that will pass, but I know how quickly circumstances can change and want only for these situations to be resolved instead of continuing to fester.

    Who's that girl - Sometimes changing, merging, or creating traditions is all we can do. I wrote more about that in my most recent post. I hope that you and your kids enjoyed all of your traditions this year.

    Mars Girl - I'm sorry to hear that you also had trouble getting into the Christmas spirit this year, and doubly sorry given some of the reasons you cited. For me it has been manifested in a more general sense of sorrow, but alas Christmas Day has come (and gone) with or without my being prepared for it.

    Roads - You are right on all counts, which is where having a five year old helps. I have to make these things enjoyable for her, regardless of my personal feelings at the time. And of course, it all got done and the important parts went off without a hitch.

    John - The whole second season was bad for me, but the worst of it really didn't hit till mid-January. It was a very dark time and led to my starting this site. Christmas Day has been nice for the most part, but the worst parts usually hit in the days following the actual holiday. Thank you for reading and commenting. Your thoughts are always welcome here.