By Bettina Shultz-Jobe
In 2018 when I was pregnant with Mabel, our second child, I began watching This Is Us during the last trimester when I was on bedrest. I was already a little late in the game on this series at that time, and now I’m even later. So is life as a business owner and Mama. . .
So, I recently watched the last episode of season 4. If you’re a This Is Us fan you might remember when Gerald McRaney, the actor who plays Dr. Nathan Katowski, shared some words of wisdom that he supposedly pulled out of thin air in the moment. Maybe you also cried (or wept) like I did. He said:
“I think the trick is, not trying to keep the joys and the tragedies apart. But you kinda gotta let ’em cozy up to one another. You know, let ‘em co-exist. And I think that if you can do that, if you can manage to forge ahead with all that joy and heartache mixed up together inside of you, never knowing which one’s gonna get the upper hand. . . well, life does have a way of shaking out to being more beautiful than tragic.”
At our home, our Christmas tree tells our life story. Memories of people who are no longer with us, homes and lives in which we no longer live, moments we will never get back. Each year tears fill my eyes as we unpack and hang ornaments that take me back to younger love, younger children, and seasons I thought would never end. Each year I remember, reminisce, and grieve.
When we decorate the tree I also feel the joy, magic, and mystery that is all around during the holiday season. Sometimes this comes easy, but more often than not I find that it is a practice. It’s a discipline, because life is hard. It’s hard for everybody. Even when it looks kinda easy. . . it’s still hard. It’s gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking, and for many of us these feelings are profoundly worse during the holidays – in juxtaposition to all the Christmas Spirit and the implication around every corner that we should feel joy. I call this grinch pain, and it is all too real for many of us.
Some of us were blessed (or lucky) enough to remember a time in childhood when magic seemed easy. Ya know, it just happened (mostly because we had parents who really loved us! But that’s another conversation). The awe and wonder of the Christmas season was simple. I was one of those lucky children.
As life happens, the magic of this season can become less. . . well magical, if we let it. It’s so easy to lose sight of the magic of twinkle lights because they take so damn long to put up. It’s a lot of work. It’s terribly easy to lose sight of the beauty of just about anything worth working for, especially when we’re in the thick of it.
During my childhood, Christmas traditions, twinkle lights, trees, and Santa Claus all just happened – the innocence of this kind of magic is something I cherish. It has brought me great joy to be part of creating this kind of magic for our children, because I believe this helps to set the foundation for something even more miraculous and magical to occur. . .
To find awe and wonder and magic and joy even amidst all the work it takes to create it. Even during the very real pain that life often brings. This is a miracle. I do believe that to recognize and accept a miracle takes great work and oftentimes even greater risk. Very seldom do miracles just happen.
For me, the entire Christmas season, especially tree decorating day, is a perfect time to practice letting the joys and tragedies “cozy up to one another”. Deeply holding and feeling both. The risk is huge, because there is no way of knowing “which one’s gonna get the upper hand” moment by moment. At times, I have been overcome by grief when unwrapping and hanging ornaments, but it’s mind-blowing what those lights look like through tears. When we just stay in it, keep feeling all the things, the reward is great. It’s a high risk, high reward venture.
The belief in magic we experience in our youth is innocent and beautiful. . . and fragile, but the magic found at the end of a pilgrimage and a voyage – the grown-up version of believing in magic, in miracles, is worth dying for.
My wish for you this holiday, however you may celebrate, is that “you can manage to forge ahead with all that joy and heartache mixed up together inside of you, never knowing which one’s gonna get the upper hand.” Because this is brave, and this is what prepares the way for things to be “more beautiful than tragic.”
This is the miracle of Christmas.