I was sitting in a little Mexican restaurant a few hours ago, watching one of my best friends eat his bodyweight in extra-hot Habanero sauce. It was a gorgeous late afternoon in Brisbane: hot, without being scorching, and bright sun without the humidity turning the air to treacle. Apart from the fact I managed to drop enormous amounts of guacamole on myself , it was a peaceful, fairly non-eventful afternoon.
This morning though was less peaceful. I became trapped in a stream of last-minute Christmas shoppers. It was like being caught in one of those enormous shoals of fish they show on National Geographic – garish neon Santas the more man-made Barracudas. It was a struggle not to be consumed and forget that I’ve already bought grown-up colouring books and Oxfam goats for almost everyone I know (surprise!) so I wasn’t actually part of that stress. Now that I live in the country, I miss the bustle of the city but the focus of these people was something else altogether. For the most part, they were there unwillingly, begrudgingly, because presents needed to be bought for people they may have even loved but who then, just for that moment, became simply a name on a lost with ‘what the hell do I get them?’
As my friend stretched himself out along the couch of the restaurant (extra-hot Habanero sauce is apparently exhausting), I kept on thinking about how stressful Christmas is for so many people. A deeply old chestnut in so many ways but one that also seems to be entirely normalised. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the perfect present could make things better. The narrative of everything being fixable with something, particularly if that something is branded and saleable, is pervasive. And that narrative is great if you have something fixable by the branded and the saleable – but so many things don’t fall into that neat little box.
With the research I’ve done so far, so many of the stories I’ve heard have fallen so far outside that box, the box was never considered realistic in the first place. When people have told stories of their suicidality, or caring for someone else, these issues haven’t necessarily been fixable in any sort of linear or simple way. It’s taken enormous collaboration with myriad people (professional or otherwise), as many steps backward as forward. Sometimes issues aren’t fixable at all and people simply live with them as best they can. And I will never tell their stories as beautifully as I’ve heard them…
Sitting there this afternoon, peaceful and overfed, away from the shopping crush, it’s these people I think about, and to whom, in the most deeply hippy way, I send so much positive energy. Because, in their continuing on, they highlight what is most important and what still needs to be done in my field. How will our work – how will my work – help them next year? I’ve aways tried to base my work on whether I’d be OK with my Ma being a participant and that still continues to feel important. This afternoon, that was the best Christmas wish I could think of – how can we make people’s lives more worth living?
Merry Christmas everyone. Be kind to yourselves and travel well.