When I was young, my parents had a friend who threw these amazing holiday parties at his cabin in Disputanta. Driving across the Rockcastle County line meant Christmas had truly arrived. We drank cider and strung popcorn and danced whenever someone picked up a fiddle or banjo to make the season bluegrassy. The host was an old hippie with a long grey beard and when he donned his red union jack pajamas, he became Santa Claus.
The parents (unbeknownst to the kids) would all bring a wrapped gift with their child’s name on it for “Santa” to pull out of his bag (it would be years before I figured out the ruse).
In 1981, Strawberry Shortcake was the Christmas wish for 8 year-old girls. This doll starred in a Saturday morning cartoon and had a mop of red curls that actually smelled like strawberry. Strawberry Shortcake represented fun and friendship. Plus, the doll came with Strawberry’s cat Custard. I cannot overstate my 1981 passion for Strawberry Shortcake.
So, there we are at the party, a gaggle of children hopped up on sugar and Santa Claus. Santa reached into his sack and pulled out Strawberry Shortcake. I was elated. It was the most magical moment of my young life until Santa bellowed, “Melissa!” An ecstatic child, presumably this Melissa, shrieked and rushed forward to seize her prize. I took a deep breath, triumphant in the belief that all the girls would be scoring a Strawberry that night.
“Heather!” (my middle name, and what all of my parents’ friends called me at the time). I elbowed my way forward, delirious with excitement, and Santa handed me…a book. The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking. I scowled at the inert rectangle in enraged disbelief, glanced at Melissa, who was happily bouncing Custard along the banister. I hated her and Santa with a passion I hadn’t yet felt in my young years, crushed with disappointment.
Sometimes life is just so damn hard. They said it would be easier than this. They said that we could have everything our hearts desired if we believed with enough fervor. So we spent more time on our knees praying, on our butts meditating, with our hands over our hearts speaking our truth to co-create a perfect existence with the universe. We don’t want to walk through the fire, we just want to be on the other side singing the redemption song.
But the cancer came back. The dinner was burned. The meds stopped working. The layoffs left us jobless. The gunman opened fire. The scale went up and the savings went down. Their candidate won and now we awaken each morning wondering if today’s the day we bomb North Korea. The Melissa’s of the world are awarded the Strawberry Shortcake dolls and we are left with the taste of ashes in our mouths.
Is it any wonder we seek solace in the bottle, in the arms of someone other than our spouse, in carbohydrates, in a scroll hole of distraction? We need more hope, more faith, more perspective.
I’ve been praying a lot recently. Which my people find hilarious, since I don’t believe in God. I mean, I believe in God, but not in that accepted, vertical, three-tiered understanding, as if life were a three-storied house and God were the cosmic elevator operator, deciding if you’re going up or down. I use the term God because it’s convenient. When I say God, what I really mean is nature, compassion, goodness.
So why am I praying? Meditating is listening, but praying is a more active conversation, a negotiation with Cosmic Balance. I get to rail and beseech and implore, state my case, defend my views. It gets pretty dramatic. I go outside and talk to the trees and the rushing water. I awake in the night and shake my fist at the stars. Like the Wise Men of old, I look upward for direction and orientation. I yell and sob, ask, “why?!” until I’m hoarse.
And over and over, Good Orderly Direction answers,
“This disappointment is a gift”.
Really? A gift? Sickness and death and internet trolls and cruelty and taxes and cellulite? They’re all gifts? Maybe the Native Americans had it right and God is just a Trickster Coyote.
Then I remember that book that Santa handed me so many years ago. How Pippi Longstocking (aka Ms. Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter to her friends, of which I am one) taught me that joy could be found anywhere, that animals make the best friends and that a fun hat can turn a bad day around. She taught me that a book is a gift, far more precious than any doll. But it took me years to appreciate it.
So yes, disappointment is a gift. It crushes, maddens and breaks us, sure. It strips us bare of the familiar, the expected. But, with acceptance and perspective, it also ushers us to a place of deeper knowing. Like the irritation that befalls an oyster, the pressure that creates a diamond, it grooms us into better.