Saturday, December 28, 2013

For the Dogs Left Alone in the Yard

Christmas 2013 After-Action Report, Part 2

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish, pain and sadness
Leave your heart and may your road be clear.

        — Peter Sinfield’s lyrics for Greg Lake’s
            “I Believe in Father Christmas”

One of the best Christmas gifts was delivered at 11:15 p.m. Christmas night, just as I was saying good night to the stars over my back yard and getting ready to turn in. That was when my next-door neighbor turned on his light and called the dog into the house. The poor animal had spent all of Christmas Day and most of the night alone in that yard. There would be no time to play but at least she wasn’t alone anymore. 

(Ah, Dog People. Gotta love ‘em!)

This gift worked on another level by reminding me of the conflicts I have yet to resolve regarding the book I’ve always wanted to write about Christmas. All the bad music and commercialism aside, I believe Christmas is one of the Good Things in life. I want it to be good for me. I’d like it to be good for everyone.

But I have no answer for the dogs left alone in the yard. 

The blithe cruelty of ordinary existence does not take a holiday. For those without family and friends Christmas is a bleak, claustrophobic cell in the coldest sub-basement of Hell. With a few mitigating nuances, I spent nearly every Christmas in the 1980s like that. To this day, all these years later, I have no wisdom to offer, no answer for that lonely young man in his 20s. “Do something else!” comes off like a cruel taunt when all that young man can see are the walls of that cell. 

By the way, that song I quoted above? I respect Peter Sinfield immensely for his work with King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but he screwed the pooch with these final lines of the song:

They said there’d be snow on Christmas
They said there’d be peace on earth
Hallelujah! Noel! Be it heaven or hell
The Christmas we get we deserve.

What arrogant, pig-headed pretension! Yes, we all have a degree of agency in regards to the happiness of our lives. And I’ll always maintain that if Christmas is a misery for us, we’re doing something wrong with our lives. We need to change. We need to do something else.

But there are a lot of people out there who got dealt a really bad hand. Maybe they just lost someone. Maybe they lost their job and face a bleak, unemployed New Year. You can fill in the blanks from here.

So what do you say to these people? “Merry Christmas?”

My best attempt at an answer is in the first set of lyrics I quoted. You must remove the emotional wreckage from your life. Clear the obstacles so you can move forward. Walk away from Ground Zero and into the Next Thing.

Do something else.

For those for whom such is easier said than done, I can only wish you the strength and imagination you’ll need to cope. You can outlast this, too, if you have to. At least long enough to have a peek at the other side of your current misery.

I thought to leave off with Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas” but I heard a better song on the way back from dropping my daughter off at work. “Gunfight” by Sick Puppies examines the wisdom of picking one’s battles, and bringing the right tool for the job. “If you stand in front of tanks/The tanks are gonna win!” Don’t stand in front of the tanks. Sometimes you just have to slip off to the side and wait it out.

Until we find a solution, here’s to all the dogs left alone in the yard.