I heard a talk recently by a Zen master whose message was unexceptional but whose manner impressed me. He seemed able to face things — his own strengths and weaknesses, the world’s sorrows and joys — without flinching or telling himself lies. I liked that. Seduced by half-truths, I often deny what I know: I see the sadness and deny the gladness, or I see the gladness and deny the pain. How good to be reminded that we’re here to embrace life in all its contradictions — to remember, whether we’re laughing or crying, that we’re here to laugh and to cry.

As Christmas approaches, I’m reminded of the lie Christmas can so easily become. Instead of a celebration of life in all its contradictory glories, a celebration of a love enduring and pure, Christmas becomes a celebration of small fictions and big gifts. I’m seduced. I’m hustled to buy and I hustle myself. Knowing better, but reluctant to spoil everyone’s fun (or so I tell myself), I go along — for one more year. I worship togetherness at the altar of brightly-wrapped things. I raise up the symbols instead of the reality of Christ’s great love.

Thus, every Christmas I get depressed, thinking that I’ve betrayed the real meaning of Christmas and my own deepest self. I bring not just Christmas but my whole life into question — and I’m not even Christian! This year, I’m going to try to remember that Jesus wasn’t, either. Like all true teachers, his voice belongs to no one. His universal message of forgiveness has yet to be understood, in a world where we wrestle each other into the grave. But surely we’re meant to forgive ourselves that, too. What do we know — we who don’t see our own light? What do I know, as another holiday rolls around? How much will I remember, how much will I forget? Aren’t I here to learn that we’re here to remember and to forget? Christmas always gives me the chance. It’s an interesting gift, once I get past the wrapper.

— Sy