I know I’m not the only one that struggles with the balance of wanting to experience joy and connection through the holidays, and also being afraid that any level of participation (longing, vulnerability) is going to trigger past memories, past pain, and leave me uncertain of how to take my next steps.
I think because the pressure comes on so hard on how we are supposed to feel and what our life is supposed to look like, that we retract and shut down because finding middle ground doesn’t feel accessible.
I’ve just spent weeks preparing content, and leading a live webinar on how to get through the holidays, and on the 20th my work week came to a screeching halt. I’m living in a new city, I only know a few people, and I had no plan.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just came quickly.
My middle ground this year was a last-minute trip to see the lights in New York City. I sat at my computer and took one step at a time to make sure I could pull it off. While I wasn’t certain what my goal was, or what the plan would be, I felt a little break would be nice.
Once the details were in my calendar, I started to feel some inner tugs. One tug asking me if I was safe to be in New York City by myself, another reminding me that New York City sounds kind of nice.
My train pulled into the station around 4 PM. As my custom, I scurry to get away from the low ceilings and out of the crowd, into another crowd. I take a deep breath once I reach the corner of 34th and eighth, and I look over to my right to make sure I see the Empire State building (as if they’ve relocated it since I was there last). Off I go to find my hotel.
I tossed my backpack on my hotel floor, splashed warm water on my face, and off into the crowd I went.
In the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about sensory processing, and that there are spaces and times that my brain and body freeze, because of how much noise is happening around me. It has been empowering to learn how to navigate that, so that my mind and body still feels like it belongs to me, rather than having to abandon it, because its reaction feels out of reach.
With that, has come a lot of breath work, and a lot of playlists. I knew navigating the crowd would be a challenge, so I prepared myself to be patient, breathe deep, and be open to what was waiting for me on the busy streets.
On this particular night, that tug came back and reminded me of the playlist I made a few years ago called “Little Nate.” So, as I take my 46-year-old frame through the hustle and bustle, there are songs playing in my ears from 40 years ago:
There was something in the air that night,
The stars were bright, Fernando.
They were shining there for you and me,
For liberty, Fernando.
The mix of ABBA and Vangelis’s “Chariots of Fire” make that tug I felt earlier come on quite strong.
There is a comfort in thinking that through my eyes, I get to see the beauty of one of our biggest cities, and breathe deep for that little boy who grew up in small towns.
I knew what his tug meant. It had been quite some time since I listened to this playlist, and it takes me back to the moments he would have a reaction to music. This empathetic little kid would sing loud because he felt the words in the songs. He would open all of himself in his experience, and when and where he could, with vigor and pride, he would sing and feel and sing.
Until, he learned that his reactions weren’t normal. When he watched chariots of fire on the TV, he would have to stand up off to the side, out of the way of his siblings so they could still see the screen, but would have to watch that runner on that beach up close, to fully take it in.
He has memories of trying to share his experience with being rejected by siblings, and parents who shamed his reaction. He would go back for round two, wanting to share the music with his mother, and with her clenched jaw and face of disapproval, he learned his feelings were too big.
As I carry myself down Fifth Avenue, the songs still feel the same. Powerful, pure, asking me to welcome in its words. But now, I have the ability to bypass the shame and enjoy the way the music moves me.
Before I make my sharp left to see the several stories of lights and trees at Rockefeller Center, I am forced to take in the massive display hanging on the side of one of New York’s most historic buildings. Christian Dior and Saks Fifth Avenue have pulled art and creativity from every area to offer up a new memory for all who witnessed their creation.
I hear the music start, so I pause my playlist and with the rest of the crowd we watch the lights dim, and wait for whatever it is we are seeing to start.
The lights burst from the bottom of the display with every shade of every flower partnered with the moon and stars. You can hear the lyrics from Kishi Bashis’, Manchester “Oh hello, will you be mine? I haven’t felt this alive in a long time.” Lights are so bright. Each person’s face lights up.
We all look up in awe. Traffic doesn’t exist anymore because the lights and colors and sounds are pulling all of us up at the same time.
My heart beats faster only because it is being provoked by beauty, art, sound in real time.
I realize in this moment that this whole trip, all those tugs, the train ride and the playlist, were a moment for that young boy in me who needs new holiday memories.
His fear is that by sending all the messages to me of how much he is moved by what we are seeing, is that I too will clench my jaw and tell him that his feelings are not welcome here.
So I stand on the corner of 5th Ave and I take another deep breath and think of what it would’ve been like for that little version of me to have been taught to express his response without fear. He spent many years hating how he was made, and I am undoing that. I’m teaching him that it was beautiful then and it’s beautiful now. The tugs turn to bursts of peace and satisfaction. Somewhere deep inside of me my memories are acknowledged and I welcome them. The shame, the confusion, the fear. All welcome and all have a place.
I stare at the lights lit above me. I imagine that little kid standing beside me and watching this display like he watched “Chariots of Fire” and this time I’m with him, smiling, celebrating that his pure heart feels so deeply.
And just like that, another memory is changed. What happened to him hasn’t changed. My response to it has. This is healing in real time. It’s hard to know what our body is begging us to see when we’ve been taught the ways we feel are shameful. But, there is great power in going back. There is such beauty in seeing our innocence, even when we have to remember how much rejection hurts.
I made a new holiday memory. So much has changed. But, one thing hasn’t. I still long to share the beautiful things with others and make sure they see it too.
I’m so glad you are here.
If you’d like to watch the display, you can click here (The show I saw starts at 4:10)