Sage-colored oak trees in the distance glow with dew as the sun glistens off their leaves. The mountain in view creates a stunning silhouette and cantaloupe color fills the sky as an Indian yellow sunrise peeks through the leaves with intense color. What were massive beds of little yellow flowers just weeks ago have turned into toasty, oxide-colored weeds.
The old studio porch is glowing, with the orange sunrise light flooding its dark wooden shiplap boards as the sun projects shadows of the twisted trees on the walls. Even the festive strings of lights that edge the porch are glowing from the sun, though the lights are not even plugged in.
Mornings, and sunrises, are magical in every way, and though there is no snow here and it’s a cool 50 degrees, the air is still filled with the magic of Christmas. And somehow we managed to get the Christmas tree and decorations up and even got the lights up on the front of this old house, just in time to celebrate the special day that comes this time of year.
The word “tender” comes to mind for the holiday season. In spite of the pressure to perform miracles selecting the perfect gift, and perhaps pushing ourselves deeper into debt, come Christmas Eve there will come a calm, truly a silent night, and a time when, if we’re fortunate enough, we’ll fill that special night with tender moments and memories with our families or special friends.
A Final Farewell
Tender is on my mind because of a phone call I just had to make to a dear friend whose Christmases for the past three years have been spent wondering if each would be the last Christmas for her husband and best friend. My call was prompted by getting word that this will indeed be their last Christmas together. Her description of their last year together is “tender, not bitter.” Though they have fought his illness for three years, she tells me this process of dying is one of the cycles of life, and that they have enjoyed each cycle together and are determined to embrace this final cycle with dignity, grace, and abundance of love.
Tender is also on my mind as I think of an old friend who has filled his heart with anger. It began like gasoline poured on a small spark, then spread like a forest fire in high winds, leaving destruction for miles in every direction as he destroyed ancient-growth friendships because of his obsession with politics. Everyone else abandoned him much sooner than I, but I hung in there, knowing the gentle, tender man he once was. Yet even I finally had to distance myself because it’s too painful to listen to the vitriol and watch his self-destruction.
Life in Contrast
The contrast of these two events is painful. In one case a couple is facing the most difficult possible time of their lives, yet they have found the peace and even joy in it, not allowing it to destroy their final weeks or months together. The other is allowing the media to manipulate him and add daily fuel to the obsession that is killing him from the inside out, as he carries so much unnecessary anger and drives his family and friends away. One family is facing their pain with dignity, the other with anger and disgust.
The Paradox of Friendship
Why is it that we can invest decades into friendships and look back on those years fondly, believing the friendship can outlive anything, only to find out that it can turn into contempt because of disagreement in one small part of our lives? What happened to trusting people for who they are and have always shown themselves to be? Yet they — or we — allow a disagreement over politics to bring it all to an end.
The Prescription for Sanity
This political anger is changing our behavior and increasing our blood pressure, and too many of us are allowing it to disrupt our lives, our relationships, and our day-to-day behavior. One woman told me she is not going to our Plein Air Convention this year because she is so upset over the recent midterm elections — she just isn’t going to go. Yet getting away from all that to be around people who love what she loves, and finding a much-needed painting distraction, is just the prescription she needs to bring some peace to her heart. As people ruminate over the horrible things they think are happening (no matter which side they support), they are putting life on hold out of fear that something even worse is about to come.
“Never talk money, religion, or politics,” my folks used to say as they were putting us through life boot camp. “It’s a good way to lose friends, and no one is going to change their mind anyway.”
A Crumbling Foundation
I remember hearing stories about families divided during the Civil War, brother fighting and killing brother, over their beliefs and ideals. Have we come to that again? Your beliefs, your ideals, whatever they may be, are worth fighting for, worth disagreement, but are they worth killing friendships over? Change what you can change, use your best efforts to make the change you wish to see happen, but don’t allow it to rip the very foundation from under your feet. Your family and your friendships, in my opinion, should be protected like your most precious possessions, because when we too face those final moments in our lives, we won’t be obsessing over politics, we’ll be wishing we could see all those people we love, just one last time. And if we’ve driven a wedge between us and our family and friends, they won’t be there. Our friendships and our families are our foundation, and if a foundation cracks, the house falls.
Use Time Wisely
My wife always reminds me that our final words won’t be “I wish I had spent more time working.” Alive and well, I am wishing I could spend more time with my wife, my kids, and my friends now, and trying to figure out how to get off the road and travel less. The recent loss of Sean, a lifelong friend, was a reminder that you cannot reconnect enough. And now that all three kids are driving and will be off to college in short order, it’s a reminder that we can’t look back, all we can do is focus on now.
I once wrote about battling troops who played football on the front lines of World War I. It was Christmas Eve, and out of respect, they put their anger aside to play football together, gifting themselves with a couple of hours of joy before they returned to killing one another.
I propose a truce. Not just a Christmas truce, but a lifelong truce.
A Rule Worth Following
Going back to my mom and dad’s advice about not talking politics, when I hold my events in the Adirondacks and Fall Color Week, we have a no-politics rule. We’re there to escape, play, and have fun, not to fuel anger and disagreement. The rule is that we simply don’t talk about it, and try to avoid looking at the news on phones or other media.
This past fall one person brought up something political from the news to me mid-week, and it truly spoiled my joy for a couple of hours. And though I said this in a loving way, I suggested that I’d happily refund his money if he was going to pollute the atmosphere for me and the group at a time when we’re all trying to get away from all the political angst. I intend to recommend the “no politics truce” at the Plein Air Convention and the Figurative Art Convention as well because we’re there to celebrate our commonalities and the painting that gives us joy. We all need escapes.
What if you were to suggest this rule at family and friendship gatherings? Chances are everyone knows that there would only be disagreement and debate over politics, and it typically results in bad feelings, anger, and sometimes the end of friendships.
Keeping Certain Things Private
Honestly, we should not make it our concern what each other’s politics are. We should not want to know how others voted. We should not want to know who they support and who they hate. Political discourse used to be more civilized, but it’s become toxic, and that is why we should all make a truce to remove that from our dialogue with friends and family. Meanwhile, the media loves keeping us on the edge of our seats and fueling our anger so we go back for more. Resist it.
Our obsession with politics is hurting us all.
No More Poison
Last summer I disconnected entirely. No television, no radio, no news websites, and I asked my wife not to tell me about things she was reading. I was filled with joy; all that poison was not polluting my system. I enjoyed it so much that I try to go to my studio instead of turning on the news. I get to change things when I vote, and unless I run for office, which I would never do, there isn’t much else I can do. So why get worked up?
Extracting politics from my life may be putting my head in the sand a bit, but I’ll learn about everything important one way or the other. And doing so has brought me peace and tranquility. It’s not controlling my life, and the media is no longer pushing my buttons.
You have every right to be concerned with politics, of course, and I respect that. But is it truly worth the loss of friendships and family?
Are you feeling defeated, angry, or frustrated with politics?
Is it serving you or hurting you?
Perhaps it’s time for you to consider a truce. And there is no better time than now.
PS: When we next talk, Christmas will have passed. Please accept my deepest and most sincere wishes for a wonderful Christmas. I intend to take some time off, so if I don’t show up next week, you’ll know why. Frankly, I won’t know what I plan to do till the day comes.