Friday, December 25, 2015

Unforgiveness, etc.

I am reviewing a book for an ecclesial entity right now, you know, nihil obstat stuff. I have done it a few times now. It's always kind of fun.

Anyway, the book is on forgiveness. It's very good. I won't talk about it specifically, because that would not be fair to the author. But I am sitting here on Christmas eve and reading it is making me think of my approach to life in general.

The theme of unforgiveness is a popular one these days. I always find the forgiveness part of Christianity - as I have no doubt indicate here before - rather confusing. I just don't get what it is. Yes, I just wrote that. The author quotes a dictionary definition, and that helped me. One of the definitions the dictionary supplies is about cancelling money owed. That makes sense, so I can work outward from there. I owe someone a punch in the face for A, B and C. Okay, don't punch them; forget about what they did; work on willing good for them; do good for them. I get that.

But what I want to talk about here, rather briefly because I am supposed to be working on that book, is my attitude toward Christmas. I don't care for it. Yes, I wrote that. I only care about Christmas because my kids do. I feel like Dexter Morgan, title character of the show, Dexter, who, because he was a sociopath, went through life imitating the emotional reactions of others to things, because he didn't have them himself. I don't care about Christmas. I care about my kids and want them to have happy memories about it. Otherwise, I'd just go to mass and try and think about the manger and then go and drink eggnog by myself in a dark room.

I complained to Anne-Marie the other day that I have become a "glass half-empty person" and I hate it. My life has been hard, money-wise, as you know, and that effects a man on every level. But going through life only thinking about what is lacking is a horrible thing. I give my experience of Christmas as example. I don't celebrate it; I do it; I endure it; mostly, I can't wait until it is over so I can go back to existing and avoiding.

Why is this? Well, I refer you back to the unforgiveness book. Unforgiveness is one way we ruin our lives. Do I not like Christmas because I resent my parents? Because I had bad experiences with girls? Because I got the flu that one time? Or because... I don't like myself because I had asthma as a kid and thus did not do as well at sports as I would have liked?

How do you even begin to answer the question of why?

All I know is that I do not believe that one should go through life like I go through Christmas, and weekends, and parties, and vacations, and birthdays, and everything else. Why do some people get to enjoy life, to take it on its own, while I don't? I know a part of this is simply my depressive nature, and that is a chemical thing, but that's not all. I also know that we grew up with a sort of weird puritanism (Jansenism) under my father's influence, where we thought it was manly to not enjoy things and to spend money and to show affection and other effluent emotional displays.

Why was my dad like this? My mom says because his dad died when he was only 17. Maybe that is so; maybe it is only a partial explanation.

Children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile.
I once met a young man from Sudan whose family was murdered and he had been tortured. He was as happy as anyone I had met. What the!?

The point is, I do not not like Christmas because there is something wrong with Christmas or being celebratory, or that it is too materialistic, etc. I don't enjoy it because there is something wrong with me.

Forgiveness? Well, why don't you pray for me that I will listen to God enough so that next year I will be as happy and gay as my children are on December 24/25.

Cynicism is not wisdom or temperance.


  1. About the picture: not to worry, Christmas in the city can be very dull too!

    Sometimes it might be helpful to just be and not ask yourself the 'why' questions. If being happy is what you should be, then try to be that way. And apart from asking God for the graces to be happy (as I've come to realize more now than ever, that prayer is always necessary), here are my two-cents: act like you are and you might just realize that state of being!

    Thanks for posting and have a merry Christmas, Dr. Kerr :)

  2. Happiness definitely involves a choice and a responsibility. And you are right, sometimes the why is not the most important part. However, if you do have unhealthy behavior, it's good to at least notice it... Merry Christmas to you!

  3. This is such a complicated thing. Having observed my children, I've somewhat revised my opinion that our personalities are all that malleable. One out of three has been, how can I put it, stressed literally from birth (and his birth was not traumatic, certainly it was comparable to the births of his siblings); the other two have been sunny, optimistic, and silly from birth. Both my husband and I tend toward the less sunny and optimistic end of the spectrum, and we marvel at their personalities, which I would classify as "impermeably happy". There is a certain aspect of optimism that is inherent, I think, like self confidence or being able to sing really well. (The rest of us have to work on it.)

    That having been said, biology is not destiny and there are things we can do to make ourselves happier. The trick is to first identify them and then implement them. It's always harder in winter (yes, even in Texas), and I have a theory that Northern hemisphere people who don't enjoy Christmas probably suffer from some degree of SAD. And then having said all THAT, I truly believe every "bad" quality has its good side (and vice versa); being naturally depressive often goes hand in hand with creativity and empathy.

    1. I agree with everything you have said here, though have to take your word for the Texas thing - going south is an idea I entertain a bit these days, despite hating the heat... thanks for torpedoing it!

      So much of what we are is genetic, true. The moral, human part is what we choose to do about it. I firmly believe that we have a duty to our own happiness. I was raised with a weird idea that happiness was self-indulgence and therefore inexcusable. So many people choose the wrong ways to be happy: drugs, sex, etc. The fact is it's harder for some of us to be happy, but that's okay, because it's harder for some of us to do our taxes, balance our budgets, not be duped by salesmen...

      Yes, the most consoling part is realizing that sadness can make you especially empathetic.

  4. "I do not not like Christmas because there is something wrong with Christmas or being celebratory, or that it is too materialistic, etc." - Sure, but that's not to say that there's not anything wrong with Christmas, etc.

    Cynicism is not wisdom, but surely it might be there somewhere on the road to wisdom? Reality's not all sunshine and buttercups and unalloyed joy. It's okay to be troubled and ponder, to bear the weight of things in your heart, even when you hear a message of joy. The Bible says so. -DM

    1. You are correct, but our culture finds it easier to tear down ideas than to build them up. That's lazy.

  5. Hi, Colin,

    Over the last couple of years I have been watching your blogging progress from sad to worse, and all I can say is Spiritual Direction. Find a spiritual director who understands anger/depression, someone just as smart as you are, who can challenge you to get out of your head and into your heart and help you to discover reasons for gratitude in your life. Gratitude helps, and my SD is my lifeline. -MP

  6. Is this my wife? lol
    I haven't really had a spiritual director that I could really 'get something out of' since I lived with Fr. - now Archbishop - Martin Currie.
    I agree with everything you wrote here.

    1. I should add to this that I do trust my good friend, Arch Prendergast, but the problem with him is that I do not want to burden him too much because I would feel like I am taking from him - just like everyone else does - he is so overworked, etc.!!! I am sure he wouldn't agree with this, but perhaps when he retires in a few years, I will have found my spiritual director.

  7. As for the "sad to worse" comment, all I can say is that my life has become increasingly difficult over the past 5 years, at least financially. Cynicism is a hard drug to avoid. I am really disappointed in the direction of the papacy and of world politics. A kind of emotional perfect storm. But I guess that is how God wants it for me so that I will increasingly turn inside and stop finding my happiness in the world. No one is sanctified by gum drops and lollipops. ;-)