A bright, cold morning. Most of the snow and ice have melted away and we shall have rain and warmth tomorrow.

Today is the second Sunday of Advent and we are reminded that even in very difficult times there is hope.

Last night I sat down with Ali Smith’s book, Winter, and read it. What a marvelous piece of writing! Smith somehow weaves together the real challenges we face collectively, including the difficulty of writing meaningful blog posts, into stories of our near future world, a place of staggering inequality and shattering climate change. She accomplishes this using thoroughly likeable characters and a sure feel for what is fundamental to human experience.

I picked up the book on a whim while vising our local library; it was standing among other seasonal offerings yet stood out the way books sometimes do, as if calling out to me to pick it up and take it home. I have other books that require reading but non are truly seasonal; somehow Christmas is not Christmas without at least one seasonal read.

Winter takes place at the Christmas holidays yet is comfortingly devoid of the ornamentation of the season. For the small group of characters, the Christmas weekend becomes a time outside of time, filled with the mythic and transformative, and with unexpected healing. I wonder, isn’t that (the healing, mythic, and transformative) what we are seeking in this season of Advent?

When I was a child I ached for change, wanting to awaken on Christmas Day to find in one of the wrapped gifts or overfilled stockings a transformation of my family and my life. I grew up in a family where no one spoke of anything that mattered, and efforts to speak were met with silence or other violence. My memories of childhood and adolescence are of a profound, bone chilling quiet and loneliness that seemed to ooze from the walls of any house we lived in. It was as if trauma filled ever possible niche within the family system, so much so that moments of warmth came as a shock. (When I was five I actually lost 80-90% of my hearing for several months.)

I now know that Christmas carried, for me, an impossible burden of hope and dread, a sticky, muddy anxiety filled anticipation for which I lacked all words. Looking back, I realize that my parents also burdened Christmas with their sorrows, rages, and dashed dreams. No wonder there was such a gap between our culture fueled expectations and lived reality.

We enter this Advent season carefully nourishing hope for healing and renewal in the face of environmental and humanitarian threat and chaos. We do so even as we are surrounded by media and politicians who deny the immense suffering and threats that demand our collective attention. Our situation is not all that different than that of those who longed for relief from the suffering that filled their world that first Christmas, are we?

11 thoughts on “Silence

  1. Oh Michael, I send you love. This time of year, winter, is challenging for many of us. My friend is writing about creativity as a source of healing. Blogging is one really good creative way. (I want to read this book WINTER!)

    1. Lara, it is so easy these days to feel alone. I find myself the only (fill in the blank) at so many events and gatherings.
      Yes, creativity helps even as it may strengthen painful feelings. Is your friend publishing her thoughts?
      Apparently Ali Smith is considered likely to win a Nobel. I went to the library this morning and borrowed Autumn and Spring….

  2. A wonderful post, Michael. I started writing a post this morning with some of the same ideas as in yours. Unfortunately I am going through a period where I am having to push myself to write even though I have so much to write about. Public expression of internal thinking is difficult for me for similar early experiences as you shared. I frequently heard “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Thanks for not being silent. Thanks for making a noise in a world that needs to hear words that are articulate and inspirational.

    1. Pat, it seems we often overlap in our process. Right now I find writing challenging as well. I am working to photograph and write, and to make art. Feels like swimming upstream, and necessary.

  3. Hi Michael! You touched my heart with this post. Everything you said about your childhood could have been an excerpt from mine. And to this day, no matter how wonderful my life is, I have difficulty this time of year. Now that the new year has passed I feel SO MUCH BETTER!! I don’t know if you can get in to the deep places where this trauma lived and be done with it…I always think it is possible but then every year I feel so unsuccessful. I am just grateful that the new year seems to wash it away and it is time to “get on with it!”
    Many sweet blessings to you and yours. I hope this new year feels good to you too!

    1. Thank you, Lorrie! No, it never completely goes away, and most likely won’t. Just too much trauma. Still, life can be quite good, and yes, while I love the Holidays, I do usually feel much better after they are well passed. I imagine one has to have trauma as a child to truly understand the lifelong repercussions. Many people are simply terrified of dealing with the reality of childhood harm. Perhaps not surprisingly, I find reading novels or watching films about trauma very difficult; I guess they just touch too many raw nerves. Anyway, am so glad to hear you are feeling better!

      1. I understand it all, Michael. Here’s to moving on as best we can. While I do not want to be defined by my past, I do remember it. I feel like I have healed so much and yet, there always appears to be more. But everything in its time…yes?
        I am sending all good thoughts that this new year will be one of love and light for you and yours.

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