A Long December

Every holiday season, as I think about my own life and reflect upon what my family and what many of the people around me are going through right now, I’m reminded that struggle doesn’t take off for the holidays. As a lover of Christmas time, my mantra has become “the magic is in the mess” and I always like to post a little love note to myself and our communities. We need to be kind with ourselves and remember that the gremlins don’t go on vacation. Checks bounce, chemotherapy appointments are scheduled, interventions are planned, relationships keep unravelling, being alone feels even lonelier, parents negotiate who will have the kids on Christmas morning, and the “never enoughs” are in full swing. As I prepare to spend the next few days with my family and friends, my goal is to practice love and gratitude with the special group of folks who keep showing up and loving me, not despite my vulnerabilities and imperfections, but because of them. I’m grateful for our community. For your generosity and the respectful way that we move forward together! Blessings, Brené 

I was intimately introduced to Brené Brown years ago by my friend, Erica. I have never met her in person, but her writings and Ted Talks have spoken to me on such a personal level and have had great impact. She was the first person to not only speak openly about shame and vulnerability, but actually did research on it and how it impacts the human psyche. Her writings opened up my world in understanding how I have felt much my life, and how it is okay. I shouldn’t be ashamed of what happened to me because it doesn’t define me. I sent the above note to my minis. I wanted to remind them to take it easy this season and to not get wrapped up in the “season of giving”–not so much the “giving”, but the commercialism of it. I wanted them to remember the important things: enjoying the company of loved ones, and if it gets overwhelming self-care, laughter and joy, and showing kindness to others even in stressful moments. 

It’s been a long December, with numerous blessings and a multitude of trails. I have been so completely fortunate that I have had those close to me help me move through it all and this evening, Christmas Eve Eve, I have been able to reflect on it all–from breath-taking, soul-filling, sucker punch trips, to intimate times with loved ones, to creating–and it’s helped me move past the bah humbugs. I also had the opportunity to talk with loved ones who had some serious life changes. Initially they didn’t reach out because they didn’t want to burden me, which really hurt because if I can’t be there for a listening ear, then what good am I? We all need help and support from others at different points in our life or another. Sometimes we just need to let it go, and with the full moon on the December 22nd, someone was reminding me to let it go.

December’s full moon will be in Cancer, in decan one, which is the most Cancer of Cancers. And, as you might know, the sign of Cancer is ruled by the Earth’s moon, which makes this December’s full moon a real crabfest.
As if “the holidays” weren’t hard enough, now you’ve got the most sensitive planet dipped in the most empathic sign taking up your whole night sky. Get ready to spread your feelings around like butter on biscuits and salt them with your tears. 

The dark nights ahead will call us to sit at a table that we had long ago thought we were done eating from. The winter solstice will ask us what grievance we’re willing to release in exchange for gratitude: that some of us get to sit and break bread with each other, that some us are well enough to take that bread to our lips and call it sustenance. Let the full moon prepare you for that luminous work of accountability, let it remind you of all the people you’ve forgiven without conditions—how, amongst them, no one deserved your forgiveness more than you.

Courtesy of Nylon Magazine

We all have Potter’s and Uncle Billy’s in our lives.

For a month, I had been planning to have friends over to watch one of my absolute favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life. Everything I’ve ever read it has indicated it was a box office bomb, but became a holiday classic and has impacted so many other stories over the ages. The movie focuses on George Bailey, played by James Stewart, and foreshadows what would happen to others if he had never been born–highlighting how, whether we believe it or not, we impact others (both positively and negatively). I watch this movie year after year, and sometimes more than once during the holiday season. This time, watching with friends while adding our own commentary, I watched it from perspective of the impact Potter and Uncle Billy.

It’s a Wonderful Life, Directed by Frank Capra, 1946

Potter is the antagonist in the movie. He is a wretched, decrepit, EVIL, and powerful man who owns most of the town, and he does everything possible to try to ruin George Bailey’s life (honestly, I believe it’s because he’s jealous of all George has). I realized Potter is the example of the “shit in your life”. Potter is that car trouble when you’ve spent your last dollar paying your monthly bills and have nothing left to give but need your car to get to work. Potter is that cancer diagnosis. Potter is the cheat robbing you of joy. Potter is the unexpected death of a loved one.

Potter is best depicted in the scene where George, out of desperation, goes to him and asks for help when he has realized his Uncle Billy has misplaced $8,000. Potter represents the things you have no control over except how you let them control you. The image above created the effect of George being brought to his knees asking Potter for leniency. Potter, instead of saying that he was left the money by accident or offering a loan, he offers to turn him over to the police.

Potter plays hand-in-hand with Uncle Billy. Uncle Billy’s character is so absent minded that he has to tie a bow to his fingers to remember things. The way he deals with problems is to drink them away (which we all know just complicates things more). Uncle Billy is self-sabotage. Uncle Billy is what happens when we don’t pay attention to what is happening around us, when we get wrapped up in Potter. Had George Bailey succumbed to Potter and Uncle Billy, he would have drifted down the river. Instead out of despair, he reached out for help. The angel Clarence appears and shows him what would happen to his loved ones if he hadn’t been born. While this helps him “snap out of it”, his family and friends had already heard the call from his wife to come to his aid. The biggest lesson is to not hold it in, reach out for help when you need it.

Life. Itself.

The story of It’s a Wonderful Life, is the story of life itself. An actually, a few days before I stumbled across the movie entitled, Life Itself. I didn’t recall seeing anything about the original box office release even though it was an Amazon Studios production (not that it would be anything less, Netflix and Amazon are fab–I LOVE To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Jack Ryan,respectively). The story is about the intersection of family in the midst of so much tragedy. It was a powerful and shocking movie, but still very beautiful. And of course I cried throughout. The most powerful moment came in Chapter 4 when Isabel was speaking to her son (and I won’t give away more than that). She’s shared some powerful advice: 

“Enough. Listen to me. You’ve had many ups and downs in your life, too many, and you will have more. This is life and this is what it does. Life brings you to your knees. It brings you lower than you think that you can go, but if you stand back up and move forward. If you go just a little farther, you will always find love.” – Isabel

Life Itself, Directed by Dan Fogelman, 2018
James Stewart, as George Bailey, confronts Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore

What was so powerful to me is the reminder that no matter what life hands you, bad things happen to almost everyone, that doesn’t mean you can’t love or that love won’t live through you. When you aren’t caught up in the shit of life or self-sabotaging yourself, you can get up again, but sometimes you need a reminder.

Bob Dylan, Make You Feel My Love

Saturday, December 22nd was my mom’s birthday. I spent the day with so many loved ones: smiling, laughing, dancing and enjoying each others company. Isaiah and I attended Mass and the homily’s focus was preparing for the Christ. Since the beginning of time, what we’ve learned through history is those who’ve dared most greatly to change the world were not given everything. In fact, they are probably the most opposed. Think about this season. Whether or not you are a follower of Christ or celebrate Christmas, you may have heard about his humblest beginnings. I will share my perspectives as a Catholic and the key points that always remind me of my own humanity. Jesus was born in a lowly stable surrounded not by a doctor or midwife or a hospital team but by the farm animals out in the cold. He was laid in a manger. The same place the animals ate from. As the story is foretold, his mother traveled miles upon miles on foot and on the back of the donkey to get to this place of his birth. His first visitors were not family member, they were the shepherds tending their flocks and strangers from distant lands. And soon after his birth, he had to flee to a foreign country because his parents feared his life. Sometimes when I think I’m having a bad day, I remind myself of this.

Bringing it Home

I think what brought it home for me was a segment I saw on Sunday Morning about secret Santa’s homeless elf. As the segment starts, you see a man in a red sweatshirt with with curly hair, a white mustache and beard. As pedestrians passed the man, Moses, he reaches out to them for conversation. Most ignore him and walk on. A few were pleasantly surprised when they took the time to talk to him. It is another reminder that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (click on the link below to watch the entire segment)…

“Kindness is a bridge between all people. If you are ever down and want to lift yourself up, go do something kind for somebody.” – Secret Santa

CBS Sunday Morning

When I’m feeling sorry for myself or minuscule, or feeling overwhelmed with the “giving” of the season, I think about connection, those who may need a friend, and what I should really be feeling at this time of year. I hope you take the time for self-care and love. I hope you experience joy, not in things but in your life. If you are at a point where life is a little overwhelming, may you reach out to someone. And know, I am always here.

With light and love,

Dara Sophia

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