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Making Space for Quiet

Do you ever find that if you let yourself be still and quiet, you’re suddenly overwhelmed with sorrow or regret or loneliness or some other emotion you don’t want to feel? And do you ever keep yourself busy to avoid feeling that – maybe even using eating as a way to keep yourself occupied?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, both because of conversations with friends and because of my reaction to a winter solstice celebration last week.

It’s not that I’ve been deliberately trying to keep myself busy. But with holiday preparations – including lots of cookie baking – changes at work, and taking online classes, it adds up. When you throw in my grandfather’s death a little over a week ago, I can easily justify not making space for quiet.

Except those are excuses. I could have found some time for quiet if I’d really wanted to – but I didn’t until attending the solstice service at my church.

When I arrived, I followed the request to enter and sit in the sanctuary in silence. I found a seat next to a friend, and we quietly took in the scene.

In front of us was a table with four pillar candles and a chalice made of ice. Behind it were the tall windows looking out at the dawn redwood tree, lit by spotlights, glowing against the dark sky.

Then soft, gentle music started. And that’s when grief hit me.

I can’t in honesty say it was much for my grandfather. We were never close. But he was Mom’s father, and losing him meant losing one more link to her. One more person who knew her, and knew her in a way I never would, now gone.

For a moment, time collapsed, as if the past 18 years had never happened. I remembered sitting in that same space in 1999 for the solstice service. It hadn’t even been a week since I found out Mom’s cancer was back and extremely aggressive.

She didn’t feel well enough to attend the service, so she sent a solstice gift for me with a friend. It was a lovely Christmas ornament of a moon and star. Her final solstice gift to me.

I think I knew at the time that this would be our last holiday with her. I just didn’t want to admit it.

All of that came back to me last week. And it’s still so hard sometimes. Even after this many years.

But here’s the thing. I don’t want to not feel it. I don’t want to pretend this grief isn’t real, or to bury it. Doing so would mean losing Mom in another and more complete way. I didn’t have any control over her death, but this much is in my control.

That’s why when I decorate my tree every year, I put that ornament where I can see it from the couch. And I usually put it near the one of a young girl skating, an ornament that used to be Mom’s because she loved ice skating – something I think my grandfather taught her.

It seems like a good way to remember her, and those who brought her into the world.

One of the other funny things about life is how if you give yourself time to truly notice and experience these less popular emotions, you usually feel better. At least, I do.

I’m also less tempted to try keeping myself busy by doing things I don’t necessarily need or want. That includes eating, but also living up to all the “shoulds” and other expectations of what the holidays are “supposed” to be like. Instead, I can take them as they come and appreciate them more fully.

So, if you’ve been frantic with holiday preparations, maybe stressed about family or other events, and you feel like you don’t dare slow down – I suggest trying it anyway.

Make a little space for some quiet and reflection on what you really want out of this time. And may it clear your way to being open to the wonders of the season.

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