I’ll be glad when this day is over.
My marriage is at a new low where our Christmas cards now simply read ‘To…..love….’. Whereas they used to contain a paragraph or two, now even a brief ‘I love you’ is missing.
Though I’m profoundly grateful for the insight and self-awareness therapy has brought me, being with my parents-in-law now brings new triggers in the form of my awareness of every nuance of behaviour and interaction which echoes (indeed moulded) the behaviour and interactions I find so triggering in my husband.
I miss my therapist, and I wonder how Christmas with her family is going. I know she is not a perfect mother, but I believe she is a ‘good enough’ mother, and I envy her daughters that; and I know I need to grieve the lack of ‘good enough mothering’ in my own past, but it’s hard.
Last night I went to midnight mass, alone. Doing things alone is not a problem for me, and I enjoy it as I’m naturally an introvert. But when the Bishop’s address started off on the subject of loneliness, I felt the tears rise all too quickly to the surface. When he spoke about feeling all alone when surrounded by people, it hit home. I felt alone – not because I had come to midnight mass unaccompanied, but because other than in therapy (and to some extent within myself), I have no emotional home, no family (other than my children) in any sense other than because of a ‘technical’ connection through blood or marriage.
After the address, we stood to sing ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’; I was still in a daze, and though it was clearly marked in the order of service, I didn’t realise it was the offertory hymn and a collection basket was about to be passed around. As I was at the start of an aisle it came to me first, and I reacted in complete surprise, suddenly coming up out of my introspection and that place within my head. The church warden who came to me with the basket must have been bemused by my reaction, because he put his arm around me and gave me a big hug, as if to say, affectionately, ‘come here you silly thing, what are you like?!’. He was considerably taller than me and when he pulled me in against him my glasses smudged against his chest and his smart suit jacket. I fumbled in my pocket and pulled out whatever change I had, and he, and the basket, moved on.
But that hug shook me and I found it harder and harder to keep it together, until the beauty of the last verse, the cathedral choir and organ, the sheer volume of sound and being part of it, broke my defenses and I was crying rather openly, but as discreetly as I could; as relieved at letting go, as I was embarrassed at the tears.
He was a stranger – and I know that for many people, what happened might have seemed inappropriate, or unwelcome, or unwise. And though it probably meant little to the man who gave it, to me the hug felt warm, genuine, affectionate, and compassionate. And what hit me forcefully was the thought that this was the only hug or physical contact I would receive from any adult over this Christmas period, with the exception of my parents (and in that instance the contact is not something I want or like, and I try to minimize it as much as possible). In that hug I felt an odd sort of fleeting (but powerful) closeness – though we were strangers and knew nothing of each other, we shared that one moment of my surprise and his amusement, and that briefest moment felt more genuine and revealing of each other than any moment I’ve had with my husband, parents-in-law, or parents today.
The absence of closeness, and the presence of loneliness, is one present that I would rather have given back this Christmas. But that one moment in the very early hours of this morning stands out for me as an example of the well-known and simple truth that the kindness of strangers can make a real difference, whether they are aware of what they do, or not – ‘for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts’ (Middlemarch, George Eliot).