When you’re a Vicar, alongside death and taxes comes a third inevitability. It is that whenever there is some massive thing-that-everyone’s-talking-about, be it a major news event, a number one song or a blockbuster movie, some day you’re going to have to feature it in a sermon.
For the past year, I’ve been putting off preaching on Disney’s Frozen, because [cue gasps and cries of “Heresy!”] I just don’t think it’s a very good film. That, and the fact that I didn’t particularly want to have ‘Let It Go’ stuck in my head for weeks afterwards. But on Sunday, we celebrated Candlemas, and the combination of a liturgy which focuses on opening up the doors and a character in the Gospel reading called Anna meant that it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
To be fair, Frozen does stand up to some quite interesting interpretations about self-acceptance in general and Autism in particular. I didn’t do more than give a nod to that on Sunday, but The Third Glance has an excellent post on it here, which is well worth a read.
I talked, instead, about stories which start with opening doors, and about how Candlemas is the ‘doorway’ festival, marking the transition from Christmas to Lent, Winter to Spring. Traditionally in Europe, Candlemas was the time when people took down their Christmas decorations – although sadly this is now largely forgotten in England, apart from the few die-hards like me, who still insist that the tree is FINE in late January, and try not to notice that there are more pine needles on the floor than on its branches. The Americans have held onto this sense of transition much better than us, with the celebration of Groundhog Day, which originated in Germany and is virtually unknown in England. In my Parish, we do have a little toy version of Punxsutawney Phil who sits on the pulpit at Candlemas, and we do also have a solemn announcement of his weather prediction at Mass; but that’s only because I am slightly obsessed with Phil’s beauty and feel it’s important to share my weirdness with the world. Also, because it allows me to say the phrase “Gobbler’s Knob” in Church.
Anyway, I digress. The point is that I preached a really great sermon (if I do say so myself) all about open doors, and journeys of healing and growth, and the need to move forward and embrace new things, and all that jazz.
And then I went back to the Vicarage to take down the Christmas decorations.
Oh my goodness. Why do I never remember how traumatic that is? I find it stressful enough putting the decorations up in the first place (because, you know, change); but taking them down is a whole other world of pain. I stressed, and cried, and rocked, and stimmed, and shouted at my friend alternately for not helping and for daring to touch things, and the whole thing took hours and was a bloody nightmare. Apparently, it’s like this every year, but I honestly don’t remember that. I had thought, beforehand, that I might feel a bit sad, but I was totally unprepared for the tidal wave of emotion that would overtake me, or for the deep depression that I am still experiencing 24 hours later.
I’m not good at feelings and empathy and stuff, but I would guess that my reaction to taking down the decorations roughly equates to the way people feel and behave at the funeral of a much-loved relative or friend. That is clearly crazy, because (a) we’re taking about baubles, not a favourite granny; (b) I’m not losing them forever, just putting them away in boxes; and (c) I’ll be putting them all up again – in exactly the same places – eleven months from now. But, crazy or not, it’s how I feel – I am actually, properly grieving. So much for ‘love is an open door.’ I’m letting nothing go.
I’ve written before about my weird emotional attachment to inanimate objects and the sadness I feel about throwing things away, but this is the first time I’ve ever really made the connection that what I experience is a classic grief reaction. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross posits that in grief there are five stages through which we pass; but yesterday four of them hit me all at the same time.
The one that is missing for me is, of course, acceptance. People who only know one thing about Autism generally know that autistic people don’t cope well with change. I’m no exception to that rule, no matter how many sermons I preach about it. I have enough trouble with the transition from putting on my socks to brushing my teeth, so I don’t think I’m likely to reach a place of zen acceptance about the death of Christmas any time soon.
It would make this post conceptually very neat if I could say that I am frozen in the face of change, but that feels like the wrong metaphor. The word ‘frozen’ suggests sharpness and stillness, but yesterday was more like a tornado, and today has the blunt, muffled quality of being buried in mud.
So let’s cycle back to Punxsutawney Phil instead, and talk about a different movie: Groundhog Day. I’ve never seen it, but from what I understand, it concerns a man who is forced to re-live the same events until he learns to deal with them better, or make better choices, or become a nicer person or something. Every Candlemas, I take down the Christmas decorations, and apparently every Candlemas I am thrown into paroxysms of grief about it. Thus far, I appear to have learnt nothing from this repetition at all; but maybe now that I’ve blogged about it, it might stick in my mind for next year. Even if I can’t stave off the waves of emotion, perhaps I can be a bit better prepared for them and batten down the hatches in advance.
In the meantime, a bit of perseveration seems as good a self-care strategy as anything else; so I shall just continue singing along with this rather awesome video: