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This Holiday Season I Am Asking You Not to Believe Your Eyes. Please.

What we see on the outside could be very different from what is going on inside.

In his Biographia Literaria (1817), Samuel Taylor Coleridge describes a state of mind in which a person willfully suspends what they know to be true of the world and accepts the illogical and outright fantastic in order to better immerse themselves into and enjoy a story. This willing suspension of disbelief allows us to slide back and forth between fiction and reality and even to become invested in and emotionally attached to characters we know do not actually exist. We all know that there are no glassy-eyed, long eared, absolutely adorable, little green aliens being carted around by armored, English speaking bounty hunters in the real world … but we willingly set that knowledge aside so that we may be totally entertained and enthralled by Baby Yoda, for example.

Nowadays, we are continuously bombarded with images and information. Some are clearly fictional and fantastic and don’t profess to be anything else, and we happily suspend this knowledge in order to appreciate them … like the fictional shows we watch on tv or “photos” we may see on the internet of people riding dragons or unicorns, for example.

Others are something in between truth and fiction. They are not doctored, or altered, but are produced in such a way as to mislead … such as the pictures I have of my kids holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or the image below.

Yes, that is my daughter and, yes, she was really there with the live penguin, but we all know (some of us intuitively, while others were crushed by the truth when told by their older sister) that she was not really balancing the penguin on her fingers.

And then there are those that, though an accurate representation of the moment, may not represent the whole truth.

Happy kids! Happy day!

…but the subsequent pictures tell a very different story.

They had actually been fighting pretty much all day, but Mamma needed a Christmas card picture! (PS: I used all three!)

Let us keep this last category in mind…

The holiday season is upon us and, let’s face it, as joyful as the season can be, life just gets busier and busier this time of year. There are festivities to attend, gifts to purchase and wrap, cards to write and send, elves to move about the house, etc. (Given my frantic near misses, and outright delinquency on Tooth Fairy duty, I opted out of the whole wandering elf thing, but we did have fun with Jeff, the elf substitute! Add any or all of those activities to your usual daily tasks and things can get (understatement alert) a little hectic.

There is also a magical intertwining of the fantastic and the mundane that occurs during this season. The snow that we complain about most of the winter, somehow seems more beautiful during the holidays; walking the dog on a freezing cold night, becomes a magical stroll past sparkling trees and homes adorned with colorful lights. And, when we casually scroll through social media sites, we are met by an explosion of images of happy families petting reindeer, decorating trees, attending parties, opening presents, lighting candles, etc.

But, the holiday season is not always a happy time for everyone. Loved ones might be far away, or may have passed; times might be tough financially; illness may have struck; or lonely may just seem lonelier when the perception is that everyone else is joyous.

Anyhow, I think that with the excitement of the season, and the blurred mix of reality and the fantastic, it is easy to get caught up in the rush and to allow ourselves to rely on (and sometimes blindly accept) the images we see around us as the truth, perhaps even ignoring our gut feelings and our hearts. Let me explain.

Have you ever wondered how a friend you haven’t heard from for a while was doing and thought about calling them, but decided instead on the quicker option of hopping onto their social media page and taking a quick look. Ok … beautiful happy pics of the kids and the family … Things must be great! Good! “Like”! I’ll call another day when I have more time.

I had a friend pass away some time ago, and I remember how shocked I was when I got the news. Looking back, there may have been clues here and there that things were not 100% … that there were maybe some health concerns. But it wasn’t obvious from the pics on social media. Maybe, if I had listened to my gut, made a phone call, or sent a text, I would have known what was going on… Maybe I could have reached out and been able to offer some comfort … something a little more than the “likes” I clicked on those adorable pictures and some quick comments.

I am not saying that I could have changed anything about the outcome had I known, but it did make me think long and hard about relying too heavily on social media to know what is really going on in people’s lives.

Of course, we can’t know everything about everyone we care about (which would be more than a bit creepy). It’s also silly to think that we could always know when something is not going well in someone’s life. These days our loved ones are, more often than not, scattered across great distances. Besides, some people are private about their struggles (hard to believe in a world of reality tv… but true).

just imagine if each and every one of us took an extra moment or two, here and there, to truly connect

No, we can’t reach out to everyone all the time … but just imagine if each and every one of us took an extra moment or two, here and there, to truly connect. Perhaps that out-of-the-blue call we make, or letter or text we send could make a difference in how that person’s day goes. Maybe it would open up a conversation.

I know that life can be busy… and even insane … during the holidays, but it is a time of extremes in every way. Not only are happy happier, and busy busier … sad can be despairing, and difficult can seem insurmountable. Perhaps, there are some ways that we can stay more in touch with people while we go about our busy days this season. 

  1. Going shopping? How about going with a friend you haven’t seen in a while? Even if you online shop, you can have a friend over (or FaceTime or Skype while you shop). You may get some great gift ideas in the process, too.

  2. Making cookies? Invite someone over to bake with you… or, for a variety of cookies, have a cookie exchange and ask each person bring a dozen cookies of a different kind. That way everyone walks away with a full heart AND a respectable assortment of goodies.

  3. Do you need to get your Holiday cards ready to send? Instead of just selecting a pic and having the company do the rest, write your cards with a friend or even a group of friends while drinking coffee (or wine … which could lead to some very interesting cards) and munching on cookies. I have to say that, as much as I love each and every card I receive, my very favorites are the ones that include a handwritten note.

  4. Are you at the point where you just need to get those gifts wrapped and hidden, or placed under the tree? Well, there’s another opportunity to get together with a friend or two and share some laughs while getting the task done. You could even hide your gifts at each other’s homes to stymie anyone looking to get an unauthorized gift preview.

There are so many ways that we can reach out beyond our screens to make some real contact even, and perhaps especially, during such a busy season. This is why I am asking you not to simply believe your eyes. Please.

Have a wonderful and magical holiday season!

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