Logging Out

Once upon a time, the symbol of midwinter was the Yule log. Now it’s the forelog.

If you’ve never heard the term, please allow my Word Geek Brain™ to make the introductions. You know how after you come back from a vacation or holiday, the “backlog” is all the stuff you have to catch up with? Well, the “forelog” comes on the other end. It’s the piles and piles of things you have to take care of before you can relax.

And my oh my, does the forelog burn bright at the holidays.

We hustle here, there and everywhere like Santa without a sleigh. Gotta buy the gifts. Gotta WRAP the gifts. Only wait, did we remember Scotch tape? Never mind that, gotta plan for company. Gotta clean for company. Check the work schedule. Check the flight schedule. “What do you mean, they’re coming in on Christmas Eve?”

Pant. Gasp. Pant.

You know, I’m starting to understand the Grinch more and more every year.

If it were just sheer social obligation, it would be one thing. But for most of us, most of the time, it’s coming from the best of places. We want to be welcoming to friends and family and neighbors. We want to help co-workers out before the holidays hit. And of course, we want to give the season that we received, so many times from so many people through so many years.

And in a way, that makes it harder. When we get tired – and we will get tired – it’s easy to turn it inward as an accusation. “I should be doing more. They deserve better. I’m not a good person.”

Stop. Stop. And stop.

In a season of love and kindness, it’s time to show some to ourselves as well.

It sounds selfish. It really isn’t. In a way, it’s a reflection of the adage that so many of us learned long ago, to “love your neighbor as yourself.” As my old math teacher might put it, that statement’s reflexive – it suggests that we also need to show the same kindness to ourselves that we would show to a neighbor.

No, it’s not easy. It never has been.

But we need it, as surely as any gift we’ve ever found under a tree.

We need to remember that we deserve good things, too. Not the “stuff” that gets piled up in boxes and bags, but the essential gifts. Kindness. Grace. Love. Forgiveness.

All of us are carrying a lot, whether at the holidays or any other time. None of us know the full extent of each other’s burdens. Sometimes we don’t even know the full extent of our own – we’re just trudging on as best we can, tottering under the load.

It’s OK to pause in the midst of the chaos. No … it’s essential. Take a moment to look at yourself as you would your best friend. Show the kindness you would show to them. Say the words you would say.

One of our family’s favorite bands, the a cappella group Face, had just the right words for it in a song called “Pick Your Head Up.” The chorus declares “The things that you say to yourself are words you’d speak to no one else.”

I try to remember that. To keep my words from being a weapon pointed inward.

If you’re in a place where you need to remember, too, I hope this helps. Know that you deserve the light. We all do.

The forelog will pass. But the strength you find and the flame you kindle can be a gift that lasts.

Better yet – it becomes a gift you can share.

Lift it up. And let it glow.

Delay of Game

Hold the phone. Stop the presses. Check the stars for once-in-a-century alignment because the universe has gone weird.

It’s October. And Missy’s birthday actually fell on … Missy’s birthday.

No, I haven’t been drinking cold medicine for fun, though the dazed look on my face sure might look like it. That’s what happens when you get ambushed by reality.

You see, this practically never happens in the Rochat household. Or at least, at a frequency reserved for Halley’s Comet, Cubs World Series championships, and smash hit rap musicals on Broadway.

We are the masters of “birthday observed.”

It’s not from spaciness or a lack of care. Missy’s birthday in particular is a major highlight of the year for both Heather and myself. Usually, it means that our developmentally disabled ward gets to hit her favorite bowling alley for an afternoon of pins, pizza, and presents while every available relative in the area cheers her on. That pretty much lifts her into second heaven right there. (Subsequent layers of heaven are unlockable by the presence of dancing, Legos, art opportunities, Harry Potter, and/or live music, especially if the Face Vocal Band is involved.)

But “Missy’s birthday” and “Missy’s Birthday, Observed” have been as much as three weeks apart sometimes. It’s not just a matter of “Oh, this is the closest weekend” – sometimes it’s fighting like mad to keep it in October at all.

There’s the minefield of other birthdays in the family. The wild card of Heather’s health. The challenge of finding a day when even five of us can be in the room at the same time. Heck, one year Missy’s birthday fell in the middle of a major bowling tournament, when there was hardly an alley to … well, spare. (rimshot)

And it’s not just Missy. Between luck and logistics, my February birthday has often gone well into March, or our July anniversary into the back-to-school sales. It’s not the precision of a rifle shot at a defined target, but the run of a World War II bombing raid that lets off all its ordinance in the expectation that something will get hit.

And these days, I suspect that we have a lot of company.

Life happens. And these days, for most of us, life happens at high speed as every moment bombards us with more demands for our attention. Whether it’s the job, the latest crisis, or an electronic environment that sends out more alerts and distress signals than the starship Enterprise, we are deluged.

Is it any wonder that our full worlds collide, bounce, and hold each other off so often?

That makes it more important than ever to step back sometimes, to make some times protected and special. I know, that’s easier to say than do. (Believe me, I know!) But I’m going to say something that may sound heretical.

This isn’t a battle against the calendar.

It doesn’t matter when you make that time. Only that you make it.

The calendar doesn’t care. The clock doesn’t care. They’re tools, and they’re even useful tools. But caring belongs to people.

If a person knows they’re loved and cared for, you can celebrate them any day of the year. After all, in a way, you’re already celebrating them every day of the year.

If you know that this is the moment when you can regain a bit of peace and balance, it doesn’t matter if the sun is high or the stars are shining. It matters that you’re aware, that you know what you need, and that you value finding it.

The world may be chaos. The choices may be limited. But the time you choose will always be the right time – because you cared enough to choose it.

And if that choice lets you cheer on a broadly smiling Missy at a bowling alley, so much the better.