We in the northern hemisphere are deep into the season of darkness. It’s so dark by 5pm that I just want to huddle under a blanket and hibernate until spring. With snacks! And fuzzy socks! And mulled things! That’s a reasonable response, right?
As the days get shorter and colder, it makes sense to me that so many cultures have traditions this time of year having to do with light. There’s something so very human and endearing about how we declare our faith that the darkness won’t be forever. I love our hopefulness that light and warmth will return. I love that we endeavor to create light in our hearts and homes and communities even when the world around us is dark.
Sometimes I can feel that hopeful light already inside myself, burning bright. Sometimes I can look around the world and hold my breath at the holy wondrous miracle of it all– candles, food, my children in my lap and a warm bed at night. Sometimes I can see magic in the hush of snowfall and feel warm cider coziness trickle right down into my soul.
I just cannot.
What I’m calling “light” is often called “joy,” and you’re going to hear a lot about joy in the coming month. You’ll probably even hear it from me, because my grinchy heart grows several sizes with each strand of twinkle lights and starts to do the cha-cha right around the time we hang stockings.
But I want to acknowledge that there is nothing lonelier than seeing joy all around you– even if it’s commercial, manufactured, photoshopped joy– and not feeling it.
There have been so many times in my own life when my chest has felt like a craggy wasteland. No hopeful bounce, no puffball of joy in sight, not even a wisp of whimsy. There have been seasons when my heart felt so broken into pieces that I couldn’t imagine ever putting it back together again. There have been months when I felt such numb panic that I could not remember what happiness felt like, and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling it again.
Sometimes these feelings come out of grief, and sometimes they are part of depression, and sometimes they are just part of being human. Being human means getting our hearts broken by the world we live in, whether you’re experiencing injustice or loss or cruelty close at hand or whether they’re beaming into you through a screen. It is good and right to let your heart get broken by the heartbreak of the world. That just means your humanity is intact.
So in the darkness, let us bring the light.
I have written that before.
But sometimes you can’t bring the light.
Sometimes you can’t find your way to joy, no matter how many cups of cocoa you drink or how many gratitude lists you made. That’s ok. No one teaches us what to do next, but I’m going to tell you what works for me.
When you can’t find joy, you have to find your FIGHT.
I was in the car the other day, feeling drained and tired, and thinking how life stretched ahead in one long slog of chores and bills and driving small people places, and feeling guilty for feeling overwhelmed when there are mothers fleeing brutal violence with their babies on their backs, and thinking about all the things I still had to do that night, and the even more things that needed doing the next day, and then feeling more guilt for feeling so sad when I am so lucky, and– shockingly– berating myself did not actually help and I was going down the spiral of futility and doom.
(You do this too, right? Every now and then?)
So I tried to make a gratitude list in my head.
I am so grateful that we are not walking toward the US right now, hoping to get asylum. I am so grateful that people with guns are not beating down our door. I am so grateful that we have a safe home, even if it is besieged by giant construction machines and their incessant beeping and they are definitely going to flood our basement.
It wasn’t helping.
So I put on the soundtrack to Hamilton.
I gave up trying to make myself feel hopeful and just let the music pour through me as I drove my precious cargo through the prairie and the suburban strip malls.
And then it came rushing in– the remembering– OH THAT’S RIGHT.
The music and lyrics of Hamilton didn’t give me joy. It gave me something better: it reminded me of my own FIGHT. It reminded me that there are things worth getting up and working hard for, even when I don’t feel warm fuzzies. It reminded me that there are things in the world more important than my current feelings and that fighting for things that matter is usually the best way to feel better anyway. It reminded me that I am an insanely privileged motherfucker and I can use that privilege to HELP. It reminded me that my family and I are just part of an ongoing surge of humanity yearning toward justice and true peace, and however messy and flawed my efforts might be, I want to be part of that.
Just like that, my light was back on. It wasn’t the warm fuzzy light of joy.
It was the fire of my fight.
I’ve fought for many things in my life; I’ve conquered things that terrified me. I know you have too.
Whatever you’re facing right now, I bet you’ve already come through something that was even scarier and harder than this. So please remember that you’re kind of a badass. Please remember that you have more fight in you than the world ever imagined. Remember that you have a loyal ally in yourself, and you have the ability to be a loyal ally to someone else who’s scared and hurting.
Your fight is one of your sacred energies.
It can take you through things and out of things that might keep you small. It can bust open locked doors and break open cages. It can help you do things you thought you could NEVER do. It’s not a gentle, pretty energy; it’s a powerful and galvanizing one. Don’t be afraid of your own fight. Let it become a loyal ally. It is sacred fire.
It is sometimes also called stubbornness. It’s one of your best qualities, dearheart.
Just to be clear: finding your own FIGHT doesn’t mean you can’t have joy.
Please have joy! and if you have it, spread it! In fact I wish you all the warm candlelight joy in the world– may your heart glow as brightly as a menorah– may your eyes shine like vintage ceramic bulbs– may you laugh so hard that eggnog joy shoots out of your nose!
But just remember this: when you can’t find joy, you can still find your fight.
And it will help you go wherever you need to go next.