Bob Thompson wrote the other day about the loneliness some people feel during the holidays. How I relate to his words!

I feel deep joy at Christmas. I also feel deep sadness.

Never do I feel more connected, never more alone.

Never am I more completely filled with thoughts–no, it’s more than thoughts; it’s the very essence–of all the past seasons’ precious moments: the hugs, the presents, the carols, the happy tears, the all-embracing love, my folks, my children, my wonderful lover and wife, the trees, the aromas. But never do I feel more sharply my distance from them.

Why is Christmas–even more than other holidays–that way?

Why can’t I just feel joy? Warmth? Hugs?

Why do I have to feel so alone as I sit with hundreds of others, enjoying the rapturous songs of the Sunday morning Christmas concert and saying (sincerely): This is glorious?

Why does the tree’s gentle, embracing light take me back not to the warm together-times but to that Christmas Eve at a Häagen Dazs shop in Tokyo, about to leave my son James, alone in an unfriendly setting, hearing his tears, feeling my own–and knowing little joy?

I love the carols. So why do they stir up Judith’s last Christmas, leaning against the cupboard in Her Kitchen, telling us how to make the turkey, since she knew we might have to do it by ourselves next year?

I sit among the people and love being with them. So why does Joanne’s face refuse to go away, refuse to let me forget how desolately alone she was, how everyone else’s joy intensified her emptiness?

Why don’t those memories leave me alone?

My head wants to scream: Enough of this! Be done with the sadness, the aloneness, the loneliness, the dark memories. Be done with this brooding moment! Out damned spot!

But the moment won’t give me up. Nor, really, do I want it too.

For wholeness, I suspect, means embracing the dark dusk along with the bright dawn, the loneliness along with the hug.

And what does the sadness do for me?

For one thing, it allows me to feel, truly feel. And that’s a better state then being emotionless.
For another, it allows me to empathize. To see Mary and Joseph away from home and alone in Bethlehem. To feel, perhaps, King Herod’s terror when he heard about a potential rival. To cry with the childless widow in the next pew, the homeless man I met at dinner, the children without love or even a memory of hugs.

For still a third, it makes the joy warmer when it comes.

I hate the loneliness of this season. Yet I love it (OK; I kind of love it). For it is part of wholeness. It is as much a part of that deep, emotional connectedness as anything I know.

The loneliness too, I must embrace. For in that embrace alone comes the joy of being connected to all God’s children, the joy of a contentment deeper than ecstasy.