christmas revisited

14 Masa’il 165 B.E.

Soundtrack in my head:  Mystic Diversions, “Flight BA0247”

For a Baha’i, I sure write a lot about Christmas, right?  Well, maybe.

I really have not been a Christian in the traditional sense at all during my adult life.  I considered myself to be a Pagan during the first half of the 90’s,  The proximity of the Pagan holiday of Yule to Christmas, and the pagan imagery incorporated into Christmas made the holiday feel more of less the same. Knowing that Jesus Christ was likely NOT born around this time of year, and knowing that celebration of the birth of Jesus was incorporated into an existing Roman holiday–well, honestly the holiday didn’t feel all that different.  Then during the time I was involved with Mahikari–well Mahikari didn’t really have any holy days per se.  We had the birth and death of their founder, but when I asked one of the ministers whether there were any actual holidays to observe and talke off work for, I was told that I should take time off to review their three-day introductory courses, not for any “Mahikari religious holidays.”

Now I am in a faith that has its own religious holidays, and Christmas isn’t one of them.  We don’t have anything that is similar that occurs around the same time of year.  We celebrate the Birth of the Bab on 20 October and the Birth of Baha’u’llah on 12 November, and we have a time for gift giving during Ayyam-i-ha, which runs from 26 February to 1 March, but that’s not considered a holiday.

So then, where does Christmas belong in my heart?

Intellectually, I can say, well, Baha’is recognize Jesus as a Manifestation of God, as we do Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, and Muhammad among others.  So it is not contradictory to our beliefs to honor Jesus. 

But there is, of course, an emotional factor of Christmas that goes back all the way to early childhood.  It involves traditions, celebrations, and music, and these things are deeply embedded into American culture and almost every person who grew up in this country. 

Time always seemed to stand still on Christmas Eve.  It seems like the whole world holds its breath for Christmas.  Not the whole world, of course.  I had an instant message conversation with a friend in Japan, and December 25th was simply another day at work for her.  I’m sure this is also true in countries where Islam is the predominant religion. 

But in my part of the world, there is a build-up that peaks on Christmas Day.  On a material level, part of the build-up is the intense retail cycle and a period of rather frenetic economic activity that is built around this holiday.  On the spiritual level, we hear–with varying degrees of sincerity–humanity’s hopes and dreams.

The music of Christmas plays a big part of that.  I love traditional Christmas music with a passion.  It captures the drama of the Christmas story, and captures the hopes and dreams of humankind in the way few artistic expressions do.  I sometimes wish that Baha’i music could do the same thing for me, though a lot of the issue is that I’m not very familiar with a lot of Baha’i music. I attribute this difference to the fact that Christianity has been around so much longer, and as such has had time to develop these traditions. 

But when I listen to Christmas music, I think about my own Baha’i Faith, more than about just Jesus.  In many ways, this is consistent with the view that Jesus is one of many Manifestations of God.  I think it’s also a recognition that most of the themes inherent in the spiritual side of Christmas and Christianity are universal to all faiths. 

Clearly, for all the faults and headaches of the holiday season, there is a strong spiritual energy put out collectively by people around the world this time of year.  Why not tune in with the good aspects of it while it’s there? 

So that’s what I’ve done over the past 24 hours.  Last night, a housemate served a delightful Christmas Eve dinner, and afterwards we relaxed by candlelight as another housemate performed Christmas music and fiddle tunes on her violin.  We’d be procrastinating putting up Christmas decoration, but finally brought ourselves to put up some garland and Christmas lights, though one housemate remarked that our efforts resembled a “modern art” approach to Christmas.  This morning, another housemate and I made Christmas brunch and we listened to Christmas music as we ate.  I had a number of presents from family and friends that had been shipped from elsewhere.  This made me feel like the “birthday boy” of the bunch, but it was still fun to open the presents in the presence of my housemates, even though we did not (and chose not) to exchange gifts among ourselves. 

Christmas–it is what it is.  I take the good parts and savor them.  May you savor your holiday moments however you feel moved to…

the last commuter before christmas

14 Masa’il 165 B.E.

Soundtrack in my head: Jewel, “Silent Night”

Christmas Eve is one of those in-between days that people haven’t quite figured out what to do with. Is it a holiday or not, or is it maybe a “half-day?”  For me, it was a regular workday.  Which didn’t really bother me.  Normally, we have Christmas Eve off, but because Christmas falls on a Thursday this year, we have Friday off, too to make a four-day weekend.  Thus, even though one of my housemates seemed shocked to see me trudging to work this morning,  I was perfectly fine with working today. 

It was a very busy morning.  I kept on getting phone call after phone call and fax after fax.  The end of the calendar year tends to be a busy time of year for us, and I have been working overtime since about Thanksgiving.  So I was surprised when, at 10 a.m., one of the managers came around and announced to everyone that we would get to go home at 1:30 p.m.  But then at 1 p.m. the same manager called us together and apologetically told us that there had been some miscommunication and that we would have to stay until our normal day’s end, which for me is 4:30 p.m.

Honestly, I wasn’t really upset, but it was interesting to observe myself and others.  As it got closer to 1:30 p.m., I found myself getting more excited and having a difficult time concentrating.  But once I learned that I had three more hours of work ahead of me, I went to lunch at my normal time, and when I came back I found myself able to focus more than before.  It helped that the phone calls and emails suddenly stopped. I was able to get significantly farther with my work that day than I thought I would.

I was surprised to learn that Madison Metrobus would stop running its buses at 6 p.m., which made me one of the last commuters.  Usually there are several people waiting at our bus stop at the end of the day, but today it was just me and a temp worker.  We boarded the No. 11 bus, and the bus driver remarked that we were his first riders ever since he began his rounds at about 3 p.m. 

The bus dropped me off at Capitol Square.  Normally the Square is crowded with people waiting for their transfer bus, but today I was literally the only person waiting at the bus shelter there.   There was a small pile of snow by the curb where the snowplows had come by–not impossible to step through, but still, I was surprised no one had shovelled it.  Perhaps they figured that not enough people would be riding the bus today to make it worthwhile.  Within a few minutes a No. 38 bus picked me up.  Normally, at this time of day, the bus is packed with commuters going to Madison’s East Side, but today, I was one of three–count ’em, three–riders.

This year, for the first time, I am going to be celebrating Christmas at my co-op house here in Madison.  Amazingly, upwards of eight of us will be here on Christmas Day, including the daughter of one of my housemates and  the five month old baby who lives here.  Perhaps there’s so many of us here because there is only one student in this co-op, and the average age here is about 36.  In a little while we’ll be having our house dinner and afterwards the plan is to put up Christmas decorations.  Tomorrow we’ll have brunch and then perhaps watch a couple of movies. 

I like that I’m celebrating Christmas in Madison this year.  Madison is my adopted hometown, why shouldn’t I celebrate here?  To me, there’s something very Christmas-like about Wisconsin.  I plan on doing some walking around the neighborhood tomorrow and taking in the sights.  And it only seems natural that I celebrate Christmas with my fellow housemates in the intentional community that I call home.  This is home, and it only makes sense that I be home for the holidays…

miles to go before i sleep

10 Masa’il B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)

Soundtrack in my head;  Fischerspooner, “The 15th”

One of the reasons for my recent lame posting habits has been lack of sleep. It used to be that my sleep habits resembled that of the baby dolls many remember playing with as children.  Make the doll horizontal and the eyes close.  If you made me horizontal, I’d be out like a light.  But not recently.

Starting right before Thanksgiving, I began to have nights where I’d wake up 1:30 a.m., 2:30 a.m. 3:30 a.m. and not be able to get back to sleep.  It has been a struggle since then.  I calculated for my doctor recently that I’ve been averaging 5 1/2 hours of sleep since the last week of November. 

So that explains my somewhat lame posting habits.  I often find myself in bed by 9:30 p.m., which is unheard of for me.

My doctor wants to set me up for a sleep study, and we’re trying to work with the insurance company to make that possible.  In the meantime, I’ve been taking a number of other measures.  My asthma and allergies have been acting up, which is unusual for December.  My doctor thinks the asthma might partially be because of the sleep problems, and has added another asthma medictation. My allergies are likely acting up in part because I’m living in a house with forced air heat for the first time in a dozen years.  So I installed filters that cover the vent going into my room.  I also got a humidifier.  I also got mattress and pillow covers since those areas are breeding grounds for dust mites.  I am religiously dusting my abode nowadays, and that also includes my desk at work, since the desks at work get dusty. 

Beyond tending to my asthma, I also got an alarm clock that produces sounds such as ocean noises, rain, and other “white noises” to mask noises and help me go to sleep.  I bought a face pillow since I sleep most easily on my stomach, and want to be able to do so without restrictions in breathing.  I also find it useful to prop up my pillow at an angle, too. 

These measures seem to have taken the edge off the problem, but it’s still there.  I haven’t had a three-hour night in a long time, but I’ve had quite a few four- and five-hour nights.  I wake up typically a couple of times per night, and my doctor suspects I’m waking up more than that.  I’m embarassed to say how many energy drinks I’ve been pounding a day, but I can say that I avoid the ones loaded up with sugar. 

So, I’m playing a waiting game right now.  I’ve tentatively scheduled a consultation for my sleep study, but the earliest one I could do was February, though they say that they can get me earlier in the event of cancellations.  But I can’t get in for the study until we work things out with the insurance company. 

As annoying and upsetting as this may sound, I’m generally keeping pretty positive about all this.  The way I figure it is that if there is a problem, then it’s good to get to the bottom of it, and do something about it.  I suspect that this problem has actually been here for three years, because I’ve been dealing with daytime fatigue since then.  It just may be that it needed to get worse to really get my attention, and if we can do something about it, I might find my quality of life going up higher than before. 

Who knows?  My challenge right now is to be accepting of the situation since I can’t really change it.  This, like everything else, will pass…