A few days ago I walked with Nora- my oldest friend. We met in preschool, and pretty quickly became inseparable.
One of the traits that united us was that we were wise beyond our years, as our teachers liked to remind us in each grade level we traveled through.
As the holidays approach, I’m reminded of one of my favorite stories of us. When we were about six years old, we made a habit of sitting in Nora’s closet to discuss our deepest and darkest secrets. One night, we joined forces and headed there, sandwiched between clothes and shoes, and outlined the topic of our secret meeting.
“We have to figure out what to do about Santa Claus.”
For most kids, this would have been a simple yes-or-no question: is he real or not?
But our concern was much more existential.
“If no one ever tells us whether or not Santa Claus is real, then we won’t know what to do for our kids! What if he isn’t real but we don’t know, and then we don’t buy our kids presents and they’re sad? We have to figure it out, for the children!”
This was the kind of ten-steps-ahead, anxious thinking that we specialize in, even now.
This was something that we discussed at length on our walk.
The stakes were low when we were six, but they’ve gotten higher, for both of us, in complicated ways.
How does one live with the knowledge that doom could be around any corner?
How does one experience trauma and not completely steel their body and mind out of fear that it will come again?
How does one accept the inevitability of further grief while staying open enough to let joy in?
In a recent mindfulness journal activity that reflected on uncertainty, I had a realization: uncertainty leaves open the possibility for unexpected, unfiltered joy. I have focused so much on the terror and suffering that comes from uncertainty that I forgot that uncertainty is necessary for positive surprises to befall you. And thus in avoiding the uncertainty I think I’ve been sacrificing some of my happiness.
Nora and I had many years in which we could have enjoyed the mystery of Santa, yet, there we were, focusing on the uncertainty of our hypothetical children’s well-being.
On the one hand, it was sweet of us to be so selfless and focused on being good future parents.
But on the other hand, we were beginning to practice the art of taking the world onto our shoulders- a habit that has proven hard to break.
One of the first CBT strategies that my first therapist encouraged me to use was to imagine myself as a young child. By offering myself the love and compassion and grace that I would offer to a young child, I could begin to heal, forgive myself for my mistakes, and move forward with self-directed kindness.
I’m trying to imagine what I would do if I could go back into that closet and supervise that conversation.
The sage in me is still tempted to offer them a cryptic warning against fortune-telling and forecasting. To reiterate that building a family is more complicated than just fabricating Santa. To confess that, with my own daughter coming of age, I am extremely conflicted about whether lying to her about Santa’s existence is even a responsible or respectful choice.
But the mother in me honestly wants to just cry with them a bit, in a good way. To tell them how beautiful their souls are. To tell them how lucky they are and how much joy there will be in life. To stress that they’re stronger than they know, and that they will need to remember that some days, but that I know it to be true, because I’ve seen it.
I’d tell them that one of the beautiful things is that they will continue to speculate on the nature of their existence together, and it will continue to provide comfort, even in an imperfect world where Santa isn’t real.
91 miles down, 9 miles to go