The Christmas Alone
tom walsh


A few years ago, I spent Christmas day completely alone.  It wasn't entirely by choice, but it happened, and that day was an important turning point in my life.  It was a quiet, peaceful, reflective day--I didn't go out anywhere at all.  I just stayed home and listened to Christmas music and tried to get the most out of what before I would have seen as a very negative situation.  Before it happened, I never would have been able to imagine spending Christmas alone, but I grew more on that day than I ever have on any other single day of my life.

To be sure, I come from a family that isn't particularly close--we've never had those holidays with lots of relatives over, those crowded-house ordeals that are so enjoyable.  I've also lived overseas for at least six Christmases, but I've always had somewhere to be during those holidays.  But a few Christmases ago, it became apparent to me that I was probably going to end up being alone for the holiday, and I was surprised to find that I didn't dread the idea.  In fact, it seemed rather attractive.  There were a few places I could have gone that day, but I didn't feel drawn to any of them.  As the day got closer, I turned down a couple of invitations and decided to be on my own that day--just me and God and Christmas music.

The possibility I most dreaded was that of depression coming back--I had just gone through a rather serious bout of it much earlier in the year, and I wasn't too thrilled about the idea of going through it again.  

In the past, holidays had sometimes been a trigger for the down feelings, and I didn't want that to happen.  On the other hand, I felt that I needed to do this, and I couldn't go against it just because I was afraid of something that might not even happen.

I have to say that there was really nothing special that day, except for the feeling I had inside that I was turning a very important corner in my life.  There was no moment of epiphany, no miracle in the form of something spectacular, no special contact with God or any of his angels.

The day started with a bowl of oatmeal and some coffee and an English muffin.  As it went on, I read, worked on the computer, listened to music, and thought about friends, wishing them in my mind a very happy Christmas.  I called my parents in the evening, and I might have talked to some other people on the phone.  But that was about it.

The important thing in my life, though, was the fact that that day seemed to act as a kind of catharsis; it was some sort of peak towards which I had been climbing for quite a while.  That day, it truly didn't matter that I was alone.  I had a nice place to live, I had work I loved, I had friends, I had food and shelter, I had clothing and transportation, I had hope for the future and the possibility of making hopes come true.  Yes, there were parts of my life that felt somewhat empty--I was single and didn't want to be, I was working hours that precluded a lot of things that I would have liked to have done.  But on that day it was very clear that the good outweighed the bad so strongly that the negative was almost insignificant.

Blaise Pascal said that "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone," and on that day I understood fully what he meant.  On that day most of what Emerson wrote about in "Self-Reliance" was clarified for me--no one else can bring us peace or hope or happiness.  It must come from within.  I shouldn't depend on anyone else for my happiness or contentedness--it can come only from inside me, with some help from faith in a loving God.  On that day I didn't feel that I got closer to God--I felt that I finally let Him get closer to me.  I realized that I was just as worth loving as anyone else He had created, and I let Him be a part of my day.  It was all pretty cool, to tell you the truth.

Eventually, the day came to an end, and I went to bed with the Christmas tree lights on.  I slept on the couch so that the tree could keep me company.  And I went to bed a much wiser person, thankful that I had obeyed the calling to spend the day alone.  I had learned more from that one day than I could have in a year of Christmas days spent in crowds.

And yes, my life was different after that day--it wasn't just a one-day thing.  I found it very easy to be much more accepting of many aspects of my life, especially the loneliness of being single.  Interestingly enough, I met the woman who would become my wife the following summer, and from the moment I met her, I was able to treat her differently than I would have been able to had I not become so accepting of being alone.  And I'm convinced that the way I was able to treat her had everything to do with her eventually becoming my wife.  And I have that Christmas day alone to thank for it.


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