in the company of women...

I am blessed with an abundance of women in my life. 

Growing up the youngest of three girls, I've never known how to function without the female. From little girls who made Christmas cookies together to teens that terrorized each other by stealing a favorite sweater/pants/Lip Smackers/Love's Baby Soft/shampoo/conditioner/mousse (it was the 80s), my world has always been informed by my sisters, my mother, her sisters, their mother. 

When I entered middle school, my two sisters were in the high school up the hill. As I navigated the locker-lined hallways and the secrets that revealed themselves in faded mustard-yellow bathroom stalls, I had three girlfriends in whom I confided. There were school dances where we held each other through the "he won't dance with me" horrors that plague pre-pubescent girls. There were sleepovers where avoiding sleep was the entire point; where calling in to a local radio show and hearing your dedication broadcast through the speakers in front of your friends meant that you loved--like, loved-- that boy in math class. 

Three women walking. Riverside Park, April 2016. 

Three women walking. Riverside Park, April 2016. 

As we neared the end of middle school and looked toward that high school on the hill, interests waxed and waned and friendships began to follow suit. In their place, new ones sprung up: three more female friends, some who had known each other since pre-school. As my sisters wandered their college campuses and I penned them letters and counted calendar days until their return, my girlfriends and I embarked on a friendship that, 25 years later, is perhaps more meaningful now than it was even then. 

As I begin my fourth decade, I think about the women in my life now, and those that I am no longer in touch with. I am profoundly grateful to each of them for their presence, their candor, their wit and their honesty. I am humbled by their capacity to love, to participate in the world in a way that is meaningful to them. I am astounded by their energy and their commitment to those whom they love. 

When it comes down to it, I just don't understand women who don't befriend other women. My heart breaks for them. Are they not aware of the sheer power that comes from females befriending each other? Have they never walked into a room full of women, gathered for such purpose as to reach a common goal, and not left in tears of gratitude for witnessing in the flesh the definition of community? Have they never stayed up much too late, talking or texting or writing to a woman who can level them with an insight, buoy them with a word or make them weep with laughter with an acerbic response?  Have they never had a woman hold them as sobs wracked their body, breathing steadily in their ear until their lungs found the quiet rhythm and matched it? 

I recently witnessed three women on a morning walk in the park; this everyday act took my breath away. Two middle aged women flanked their older counterpart, arms intertwined to steady her, their pace slowing to match hers. As they shuffled along, they talked quietly, smiling alternately, pointing, nodding. As I passed them, I was struck by their colorful outerwear, the distinct shapes of their bodies against each other. Three women walking as one; each vibrant in her own right, yet perhaps stronger--and more striking--linked together. 

I am so lucky to be able to say I know exactly how that feels. 

fa la la la blahhhhhhhhh...

If my lack of posts over the last two months isn't indication enough, then I'm guessing the Eeyore-esque title of this particular post will really drive home the point: the holiday spirit which I've prided myself on harnessing in years passed has proved extensively elusive this time around.

 

I've got a case of the fa la la la blahhhhhhs, and no amount of tinsel is going to turn it around. 

Christmas came and went this year with very little fanfare. Though my boyfriend and I have differing opinions on the season (Mine typically registers on the "Holy shit do I love all of humanity when the world is a-twinkle in white lights" scale. His, not so much.) I generally manage to feel aflutter when the first snowflake decorations adorn the lamp posts on Amsterdam Avenue. From there, it's a slow slide into Nat King Cole roasting chestnuts on an open fire and Karen Carpenter promising her homecoming for Christmas. Gift wrapping, while sending my back into spasms only a Chinatown massage can undo, sends my spirits soaring like Wynton Marsalis' trumpet at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Big Band Holiday concert. For someone who is a renounced Catholic, I can sure as hell play the "I'm Christian when it's convenient" card to WIN. 

Only this year, I just didn't have it in me. This was due in part to my not feeling well physically, being stressed to near death (or at least to the detriment of my good stomach flora...and fauna) over the millions of little things we small business owners stress about and a tiny little, oft looked-over reason called, oh, I dunno...current world events. 

While I was staring out my window and wondering why the hell passersby were jogging in tank tops and shorts (global warming: the gift that keeps on giving!), the world continued to melt...er, spin...and with it, my head. How could I possibly get excited about this now grossly commercialized holiday when there were refugees all over the world desperate to escape unspeakable violence, human rights violations, drought, hunger, slavery, rape and religious persecution? What right did I have to bemoan my lack of jollies when yet another black American, gunned down by a police officer, will surely never see the scales of justice tipped in their favor? How to justify wassailing down West End when Earth is melting, Donald Trump is spewing hate and gaining ratings, Ted Cruz looks almost sane by comparison and the New York Times just published an editorial on The Reproductive Rights Rollback of 2015, citing 288 abortion restrictions enacted by states since 2011?

Call me a pessimist (I prefer "informed"), but the most wonderful time of the year is looking pretty fucking un-wonderful for most of humanity, and that makes it very difficult for me to get on the Polar Express to Happyville. 

So, what to do? 

This year, the holidays had to be celebrated differently.

My family and I had a discussion at Thanksgiving about shopping ethically; my sister Kristin and I requested no gifts from brands with known fair wage violations and questionable labor practices and provided a list of sites and brands we love and support (OrganicBath.co, ShopFollain.com, ShopEthica.com, Everlane.com, Coyuchi.com to name a few). We requested donations be made instead of gifts bought (GirlsWriteNow.org, PlannedParenthood.org for starters). Our family downsized gift giving significantly. We bought books and gift certificates for experiences for our parents, niece and nephews. We prayed for those in turmoil. We refused to look away, even though it would have been easier/more convenient/more joy-inducing to do so. We shared articles on race and religious persecution with each other before we even wished each other Merry Christmas. 

It's not much, in the grand scheme of things. But if Christmas is about bearing witness to the miracle of the birth of the supposed savior, then certainly we are responsible for bearing witness to the heartbreak that our fellow humans endure every day of the year. If we don't try to learn, to pay attention, to stand up, to vote with our wallets for the kind of world we live in, then how will be ever be able to look at our faces in the mirror and say, "You are deserving of knowing joy"? 

As 2016 approaches, I cannot say I have faith that anything will improve. But I promise to keep learning, to keep championing, to keep sharing, to keep speaking, to not turn away simply because it's easier to be happy to do so. I'd rather be informed.