Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: What’s bothering me that I haven’t spoken up about?
The associated meditation focuses on the futility of complaining about the behaviour of others, suggesting that the correct approach is to either speak to them about it, or to decide to accept it. The quote from Marcus Aurelius is apt: “If someone is slipping up, kindly correct them and point out what they missed. But if you can’t, blame yourself–or no one.” Kindness and a desire to actually help resolve the issue is the key–as, I would argue, an actual relationship with the person based on mutual respect, and establishing that “helping” is a dialogue based on listening, not telling the other person what to do in order to get them to do what you want them to do, or think they should do, to make your life easier. And the second part is key as well. If you’re not willing to help–and again, we are talking about friends and those you have a relationship with–complaining to others about how awful they are isn’t useful. It takes real courage to tell a friend they’ve messed up, as well as wisdom to understand when an issue is simply them not doing things your way.
A friend just described it as an act of defiance. She, like me, is putting up the Christmas tree today, and tried to put on Christmas tunes before shutting them down. Joy, innocence, merriment, seeing friends and family, all of that–none of this is 2020. We are still living through a pandemic that at this moment is getting worse, not better, that’s shut down most of the activities that make this season merry. The sacrifice would be easier if it didn’t seem like so many were unwilling to make it. This–decorating–is one of the few things those of us who are not reckless, who do not want to bargain with a virus, who are doing what all of society should be doing to protect each other, can do.
I have been collecting ornaments since 1975, when a cousin gave me a brass ornament of an angel with my name engraved on it. While I can’t seem to find that one, I have those starting in 1976, both ones I was given and those I purchased. And I also have a small collection of my parents’ vintage glass ornaments, particularly a small red Shiny Brite ornament that says “Silent Night” in white textured writing, with a picture of a church. That ornament likely dates to the 50s. My decorated tree is like a book of memories of vacations, friends, and events in my life. Up until now, I’ve always had new things I wanted to remember or honour each year. But this year? You know what I’m not putting on my tree? An ornament involving masks and toilet paper, or one featuring a list of things we’ve done this year to combat a pandemic. No. That won’t be happening. This is one place the virus has no power.
There is a single song that came to mind as I decorated in silence: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The song as it’s most commonly heard today contains the line “Through the years, we all will be together/If the fates allow/Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.” But the version sung by Judy Garland in the movie Meet Me In St. Louis”–in a song where she is trying to console her sister as they face having to move away from everything they love–had the “Until then, we’ll have to muddle though somehow” instead of the bit about the star. Not only that, the original version–changed on the insistence of Garland, opened with “Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last/Next year we may all be living in the past,” and then, later, “Faithful friends who were dear to us/Will be near to us no more.”
Well, then. There’s 2020 for you. We’re going to have to muddle though somehow. So today’s music isn’t bright Christmas songs, but instead the famous “muddle instead of music,” Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District–an opera that became an act of defiance if there ever was one, but only after it was suppressed for 25 years. I’m listening to it right now, after I finished up decorating the small, desktop tree that I keep in the craft room/office. It’s an enormously violent work, full of awful people and death and what is pretty damned close to rape, and all of this is in the music.
Life just becomes merrier and merrier. At least there was a good game of Terraforming Mars to end the day.