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Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I followed through on some of the impulses that flit through my mind. For instance, on the way home from the vet this morning (on foot; the vet’s office is just up the block), I thought strongly about sitting down on the sidewalk and crying. Would anyone have noticed? I did pass the mail carrier on the way. Surely he would have looked askance at me. Then again, I’ve walked home from the vet in tears before, and no one gave me a second look. And I don’t exactly live in a remote enclave — along with the vet’s office, the street holds a police station, fire station, Girl Scout headquarters (great for receiving one’s cookies before everyone else does), two dentists’ offices, a park and a bus stop. There are people about, believe me. But here’s the rub: Each one of us is so attuned to our own self-doubts, miseries, anxieties and pleasures that we often have no space in our vision or hearts for anyone else’s.

Maybe that’s a good thing. It’s hard enough to navigate one’s own life without taking on the baggage of others. Our own suitcases are plenty heavy, thank you. I, for instance, did not ask the mail carrier how his day was going. Maybe he was up all night with a sick baby. Maybe his mother is in the hospital. How would I know? I was stuck in my own woes. But we did exchange a smile, at least. And here’s the thing — I meant it. I like people generally, and hope our mailman has a nice day. And he, at least in that moment, felt the same way about me.

Maybe if I turned my vision outward more often, I would find that most of us are struggling with one thing or another, but are willing to reach out with positivity anyway. We are never as alone as we think we are. God made us responsive to one another from the get-go: Babies seek out human faces, quickly learning to smile so as to elicit a response should hunger, thirst or other need occur. It is instinctive behavior. Perhaps we are all just infants, whatever our age, looking for someone to respond to our smile, just in case we should ever need them down the line. Perhaps that’s what a smile is — a social cue passed from one to another to admit both our own inherent weakness and transmit the possibility of solidarity. I need you, and you need me. We agree, yes?

I won’t tell you to smile (though your heart is aching), or to let a smile be your umbrella: No one likes being told to feel something he or she does not feel. But know this — a smile is a gift, and you never know how much it might mean to someone else until you give it. In the uptick of facial muscles lies the hand of God. Pass it on.

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No matter how great your sadness or how deep your sorrow, there’s one person to whom you can always turn: Mary. Oh, I know. I can hear you: “You Catholics and your Mary…it’s Mary this and Mary that! Why, it’s practically heretical.” Marian devotion may be peculiarly Catholic, but there’s nothing peculiar in recognizing Mary as a particularly appealing and deeply understanding role model.

First of all, she knows heartbreak better than a country music ballad. The terror of losing a child in a big city? Been there. The profound grief of watching your own flesh and blood, your beloved son, be tortured and murdered? Done that. I don’t mean to sound blasé. Mary knows the darkest and most painful parts of motherhood like no one else. I can’t think of a better resource for parents or those who mourn. However heavy your heart, her heart knows your sorrow. No one who ever lived has experienced more vividly than Mary the destruction of innocent life.

But Mary is more than just a grief counselor. She is a model of acceptance. Some find Mary’s humility and serenity mildly annoying or even mealy-mouthed. (I know; I’ve been guilty of it myself.) “Thy will be done.” Honestly, you have no more passion than that for captaining the ship of your life? But Mary’s “yes” turns out to be stronger than any “no” could ever be. She doesn’t just accept. She puts herself into God’s hands totally. That takes guts. Anyone who’s ever tripped over the words “thy will be done” in The Lord’s Prayer knows what I mean.

What’s more, acceptance can be a powerful thing. Like poor old Hamlet, we can try to bend the world to our own ends, only to find that “the rest is silence.” Only in acceptance can we find peace. Only in acceptance can we find the ability to go on after life’s greatest trials.

Though Mary’s role in the New Testament is underwritten at best, the fact is that she was present. Present for Jesus’ life and ministry, present for his death, present for the Pentecost and subsequent spread of Christianity. She might not have said much (that we know of), but she was there as witness and active participant. She went where the work took her — the work of God, that is — whether that was far from home (Egypt) or in her own neighborhood. We would do well to do as Mary did.

So think of Mary as a resource, in pain as well as in joy. (No one has ever described the keeping of happy memories better than in that little sentence: “She kept all of these things in her heart.”) Whatever you’re going through, Mary understands. Let her stand with you.

When my son was born, my mother-in-law crocheted him a beautiful blue blanket. It was tyke-sized and warm and infused with grandma-love.

It was around that time that I noticed I sometimes felt covered with a blanket of blue – but of a different type.  I had post-partum depression and couldn’t smile for a very long time.

My son is now thirteen and for the last few years, he’s been dealing with depression too.  Even though I blame myself for his downbeat-DNA, I’ve also had to find a way to make him face his issues for himself.

So, the other day when I asked him what was wrong and he shrugged, I left the room.

As I told him last time he shrugged when he felt sad, “I don’t do shrugs anymore.”

He knows that if he can’t articulate what’s wrong and talk it over, I’m no longer on duty as a mind-reader and all-around Mother MacGyver.  That guy could fix anything with a Q-Tip and a paper clip.  I’m just not into playing that thankless, unpaid – and might I add, fictional – role anymore.

The fact is, even if you’re clinically depressed, you can work toward finding a way to feel better.  Circumstances may affect you, but to an extent, you choose how you react to them.  The minute you shrug and act as if you can’t even find the words, it’s like saying “Poor pitiful me.  I have it so hard.”  And you may well have it hard. Perhaps harder than anyone else in the world.  So then what?  You win a medal?  That medal is rusty and heavy and will weigh you down.  Do you really want the Too Bad, So Sad Medal?

As you know from Lori’s post, nobody promised you a rose garden every day of your life.  And as you know from SueBE’s post, you don’t have to be a voluntary victim.  Depression may cover you like a blanket of blue, but you don’t have to wear it like a shroud.

So if you have it that hard, shake off the shrugs.  Don’t define yourself by the bad moments in your life. Never is hyperbole and always hasn’t arrived yet, so don’t get caught in those two black holes.  Keep going.  Keep trying.  Keep talking to the people who love you.  Before you know it, you’ll find a way to climb up out of your funk and get back to life again.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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