It happened this morning when I stopped to get coffee.* As I pulled out my wallet to pay for my go-juice, the guy hanging out at the counter leaned in and asked to have a dollar so he could get a sandwich. Well, no... that won't do at all, I thought to myself, and politely refused. The fact of the matter is that I just don’t have the cash to spare when someone asks me for help.
"Sorry I asked," he said. I stood waiting for my cup, and when I didn’t say anything more, he continued. "I haven’t eaten in two days..."
This played on the heartstrings. I kind of wish I could be far more cavalier with my money than my $19K of forced charitable giving each year allows. No, it wouldn't kill me to give up a dollar, but in the face of everything else, I feel like I need to get myself back on something resembling an even keel before I can even think about helping other people. I started feeling uncomfortable and wishing that, "Sorry, I really can't..." had truly ended the conversation.
The nice lady behind the counter handed me my coffee and I turn to leave. Before I took a my second step, he hit me with, "Merry Christmas." Ugh. His voice was tinted with just enough spite to show what kind of person he thought I was. I felt low for looking after myself. I felt guilty because I’m not the one who has to beg. I felt sad that I’m not in a position to help everyone who comes to ask. Underneath it all though, I felt annoyed that I got beaten over the head with the expectations that grow out of the lies of this particular holiday.
It’s funny. There was a Anglican priest who took flak earlier this week because he let the truth leak about Santa Claus when he was talking to a group of children. The reason for the reprimand? Because parents were forced "to do a lot of explaining." Well, you know, if you lie to your children about a jolly fat man who breaks into your home once a year to steal cookies and who is clearly more partial to the rich kids in his charitable donations, sooner or later there is going to be a reckoning.
The big lie we tell ourselves as adults is that people are going to act any differently during the holidays. Yes, sure, there are beautiful souls out there who will do amazing things for their fellow man around this time of year, but you know, they are the same people who will do amazing things for their fellow man throughout the rest of the year. For most, the holidays are little more than a stressor, and will tend to enhance personality traits that are already there. Expectations and obligations are high, so high, in fact, that a fair number of people each year decide that it is beyond them. Suicide rates climb, depression mounts, and for what?
It isn’t a magical season when our problems go away (I wish), or where people go through intense personal transformation. The selfish remain selfish, the desperate remain desperate, and those few good souls that there are remain good souls. I fully recognize that my perception is tainted, and that for some, this truly is "the most wonderful time of the year." I congratulate you, and do so wish that I could borrow some small corner of your world.
Christmas is hard.
*Yes, I know that this all brings up the question of why I am out buying coffee in the morning rather than brewing it at home. I don’t have a good answer to that. The answer I do have is that I’m too freakin’ depressed to make sure that I have a clean pot to work with or to keep the beans and milk in the house or to get out of bed at a reasonable hour so I have sufficient time to brew before I have to rush out the door. I feel guilty about that, too. There’s an inelegant beauty to feeling guilty about being depressed.