This weekend I'm taking 15 junior high kids and 5 adults on a retreat. (Good times.) We're visiting other faith communities: worshipping at a local synagogue and talking with the cantor tonight, visiting a mosque tomorrow and then Catholic mass in the evening, and wrapping it up at a Greek Orthodox church on Sunday morning. This is a WHOLE LOTTA church for junior high kids, so we'll see how it goes.
I've been getting ready for some teaching time on Saturday morning - the world's briefest (and probably least accurate) introduction to four major religions. Which meant I had to type up an introduction sheet to Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. I did okay on Islam and Judaism. I was more familiar with Buddhism than I thought. But let me tell you what: I sucked at knowing anything reasonably detailed about Hinduism. Which, by the way, is fascinating but esoteric enough that it's going to be hard to explain to a group of 13-year olds (although, when you think about it, the idea that some guy from Nazareth who lived 2000 years ago and was executed by the state was, in fact, the incarnation of the God of the universe is not terribly plausible either).
In my quick research, I found a reminder of something I'd read about a few years ago: that both Buddhism and Hinduism teach about mindfulness - the idea of paying close attention to your life, and to the world, as it is now. This is also something at which, let's face it, I suck.
Part of me wants to blame this on eons of Christian theology which has, for the most part, taught its followers to focus less on the world as it is now and more on the world as God wants it to be, or perhaps on the heaven you're waiting for when you die. I don't put much stock in that particular theology, but it's hard to get away from if you read theology for a living. Sadly, this kind of mindset has allowed Christians to excuse really bad environmental policies, slavery, and all kinds of other evils under the assumption that "it will all work out when God comes again, and this world will be destroyed at that point anyhow, so why does it really matter? Bring on the Arctic Oil Drills!"
Of course, some of that it's-all-about-heaven mindset came from the people who were being oppressed by Christians in the first place. If you were a slave, for instance, you might not want to spend a lot of time on mindfulness about your current life; you might really find hope and healing in the promise that life after death was going to be much, much better than the suffering you were enduring right now. We got a lot of really amazing spirituals this way, songs about the life to come, about God taking us out of the trouble we've seen, or giving us real life in the by-and-by.
But let's face it: I'm not being oppressed by anyone, except perhaps by the Demon of Chocolate, which doesn't really count. There's no need for me to look away from my life as it is now, or from the world as it is now. But that's what I do, a lot of, much of the time. Especially this time of year. Especially about our infertility.
The days from Thanksgiving to Christmas are, for me, the hardest time of the year to be infertile. Yes, you can be smacked in the face with other people's pregnancy announcements any day of the year, and you can find yourself tearing up when you see a baby in the shopping cart at Target no matter what day it is, but there's no time more kid-focused than the month of December. You hear it everywhere: Christmas is all about children, they say.
This year is the fifth Thanksgiving, the fifth Christmas, the fifth Advent season for us without the child we hoped for when we started trying to conceive. You'd think we would be better at coping; doesn't practice make perfect?
In some ways, we do handle it better. I don't tear up at every commercial showing a cute boy in footie pajamas running down the stairs to open his presents from Santa. I don't nearly have a meltdown every time I have to walk through the toy section. I (usually) don't cry when I get yet another Shiny Happy Family photo card in the mail.
On the other hand...five years. We'd have a preschooler by now.
One way to deal with this season is to put my fingers in my ears, shut my eyes, and spin through it as quickly as possible, pretending it's not happening and wishing as hard as possible for January to get here with merciful speed. Just get it over with. I've done this. It doesn't help.
Maybe it's because we're heading into another IVF cycle that I don't feel as anxious this year about facing the holidays. Maybe it's because we've done this so many times that it's not as terrifying as it used to be. Maybe you just can't sustain that level of grief for five years without losing your mind.
I'm not sure what mindfulness would look like for me this month. All I know is that avoidance doesn't work either. Maybe I can live someplace inbetween.