EDITORIAL: It’s Christmas: Are we allowed to feel joyful this year?

December 16, 2022
By Marcy Shortuse

This has been a strange year. So was the year before it … and the year before it … and so on. It’s been a non-stop parade of “unprecedented” situations we’ve been experiencing, all the while trying to continue on with what we recall our “normal” lives to have been. That memory is slipping further away, the more time passes.

Now that it’s mid-December, it’s time to put away that everyday anxiety and bring our fancy Christmas anxiety out of storage. It’s been very nice to have some of the regular activities of the season take place, such as the Boca Grande Woman’s Club Community Tree Lighting, the Boca Grande Chamber Christmas Walk, even the Turkey Hoop Shoot. We had the lighting of the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse as well, even though the building is closed for repairs. 

After the storm, it was nice to see The Gasparilla Inn & Club still standing, a bit bent but nowhere near broken. They have their tree up now, as well as a new playground and are currently open for business. The work that was done by so many hands to bring the old girl back to grace was immense, but now she is ready for guests again. 

There are many things to be thankful for this Christmas, there’s no question about it. It’s just hard to keep our mind’s eye on that prize sometimes, as we struggle with insurance inquiries and paperwork, on top of our normal seasonal frenzy. Feelings of being overwhelmed are coming to the surface now, months later, as many of us realize how long the road is between now and being back in our homes.

For some people it was impossible to return to their damaged homes after the storm, even to box up what was salvageable and to throw away what was not. For others, it was impossible to leave our broken houses without feeling like we would lose what we worked so hard for. It’s almost an anthropomorphic emotion – like the house would feel abandonment. 

Many of us have had friends whose passing was precipitated by the hurricane, whether it was officially recorded as that or not. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, it was a thing they could not stomach or entertain in their brain as an obstacle that could be overcome. 

Because they were already so very tired.

But we still have family to look after and entertain this holiday season. We still have obligations that include a lot of smiling and brushing off of our true deep emotions with words like “I’m doing great!” or “It could have been so much worse.”

When Bette Bowen wrote a letter to our newspaper last month called “I’m fine,” it got a lot of response. If you feel like it’s nothing but an uphill battle that you don’t know you can win, you are most certainly not alone. 

In part, her words read:

Someone asked me last week, How are you doing? The pat answer is, I’m fine.

I’m not really. 

I’m better than most. But there’s just something that’s not right, not me. I am functionally depressed.

Functional depression is a clinical way of saying that you can get up most mornings and go to work, you can walk the dog and figure out what to have for dinner, but you are wading through mud to do it. Depression makes you want to give up, to quit adulting, to make a tree fort and throw rocks at those who attempt to make us come down. And a lot of people are walking around with it right now, like an invisible companion they don’t want to include in the conversation.

If people depend on you, it’s really not an option to go to the tree fort. If people don’t depend on you, well … sometimes that fuels the depression even more. 

Earlier this week I had a bad day. It was a bad one. But I woke up the morning after that day and realized that, for all the horror of the previous day, I was going to make a conscious choice to try to feel Christmas again. 

Do you know what I mean by “feeling” Christmas? That joy that comes with the season, that begins when you’re little and, if well protected, doesn’t ever entirely go away? That feeling that keeps your eyes on the sky on Christmas Eve, looking for Santa and his reindeer or the Christmas star, even when you’re 50 something? 

I’m going to try to find that feeling. Because I realized we are slowly conditioning ourselves to feel nothing but obligation and responsibility, all while envisioning the worst case scenario and trying to put out the fires that could bring it to fruition. 

Something like a smile and a wave to a stranger in traffic can change their day in ways we will never know. Tiny, positive things make a huge difference in people’s lives and can set off a chain reaction in the universe; a Butterfly Effect. 

Bad things can do that, too, and we have to remember that fact when we are constantly frowning, worrying and chewing on how to fix problems or find financial solutions to things that may or may not be within our control at that moment.

We need to start taking it moment by moment. We need to recondition ourselves to live in the here and now, knowing that the troubles that plague us will either get fixed, or they won’t. That doesn’t mean we will stop working to achieve our goals, it just means that if we do our best to make things better, we don’t need to worry. 

Because we did all that we could to make something better, in our life or in someone else’s. And that’s all we can do. 

It’s a hard change to make after years of stressing about weird illnesses, national politics and financial ups and downs. And a hurricane … can’t forget him. Bless his heart.

We have come to a critical juncture regarding many things: where we will live, how we will afford to live there, how we will keep our families healthy, fed and sheltered and how we will continue to thrive in a system that seems to be more against us than for us sometimes. We have to remember that worry is a choice, and so is apathy toward others. It’s a slow-acting poison that has taken many lives. 

Look at it like this – if something happened tomorrow that took away all of our personal wealth and possessions and we were left with nothing but our wits and skill to carry on, how many people would be in your tribe? How many of the people who surround you now would continue to be near you, only by choice and not out of necessity? Because of your love for others, or your sense of humor, or your calm, rational demeanor? 

How we treat ourselves, matters. If we make telling the truth, being as kind to others as possible, taking at least minimal care of ourselves and occasionally laughing at our current plight a habit, the rest will fall into place. 

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. I hope you find your joy … somewhere. Somehow. 

Marcy Shortuse is the editor of the Boca Beacon. She can be reached at mshortuse@bocabeacon.com.