I would have described myself as the least lonely person alive until yesterday. Yet this Christmas week loneliness is coming at me from all angles. It came in on a trojan nutcracker and is dumping out its solders at a furious rate.
First of all my memoir, COMING ASHORE was very favourably reviewed in THE GLOBE AND MAIL. As I was reading along not only was I relieved the review was good, but I was thrilled that the reviewer really 'got' me. Or so I thought until I hit the paragraph that said that I was "lonely and isolated". Lonely?????( Agh !!!Picture a Roz Chast photo of sheer horror.) I have more friends than Oprah. What is she talking about?
That same day my cleaning lady, Nelcinda, who for 18 years has never asked me a personal question, said to me while we were decorating for christmas, "Are you sad having no family?" I just looked at her blankly which she apparently took as encouragement and continued, "In all my years here, you have never had one relative visit the house." It is true although it never struck me as sad. I am an only child, whose parents died many years ago . She said, "Don't you have cousins?" I said my dad was also an only child and my mother had one sister but her children mostly went into the religious orders of one kind or another. My mother wasn't close to her sister nor did we visit her family often. Nelcinda took this in stride but said she would be terribly lonely without her brothers, sisters and cousins, especially at Christmas.
Oddly the same day I came across a passage from Edward Said, a marvellous Palestinian writer, that jumped out at me from his essay on REFLECTIONS ON EXILE which said,
Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. And while it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, even triumphant episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement. The achievements of exile are permanently undermined by the loss of something left behind for ever.
Again a reflection on loneliness, missing your country of origin. It is at Christmas that I miss America, my native land. When I left America I had no idea I wasn't coming back. I had no enemy on my trail as I crossed the border nearly fifty years ago. I came to go to University, met my husband and stayed in Canada. My Exile was not a sudden rip, but crept in as a whimper. I was not Conrad or Nabokov who had to learn to write in English -- it was easy. I could keep my native tongue. Yet no matter where I go people say, "You're American aren't you? Or people criticize Americans for their foreign policy and or their loud, garish natures which I call friendliness. For some reason they figure they can criticize your homeland right in front of you. Yet if I was from Hungary, I doubt they'd criticize Hungarians to my face. Yet It is always open season on Americans.
Since loneliness has jumped out at me 3 times in one day, you don't have to be Freud to know this is an issue. I am now married to a Jew and have 3 Jewish sons and no one is particularly interested in Christmas. In fact everyone moans and actually screams when I play my Bing Crosby White Christmas C.D. I have finally given it up.
Yet in my head I still live through our Catholic school nativity pageant of Mary in the manger in Bethlehem which we performed every year in grades one through 6. It has limited drama. Once the baby was born and the 3 wise men depart the dramatic action is limited -- but still I loved it . Then in the older grades we did the Amahl and the night visitors opera.
At home my father played Christmas carols by Big Crosby , Perry Como, and Nat King Cole on his 78's. Carollers came to the door and my dad had them in for a high ball. ( weird since some were kids.) The priest , Father Campbell, came to bless the house and he too stayed for a drink. On his second drink he sang songs in 'old Irish' as he was originally from Ireland. it was the only time of the year anyone other than my mother, me, or my father set foot in our home. My mother didn't like company. Christmas was her only exception. On Christmas we were the only people in the only fancy restaurant in our town and the chef and waitress joined us since no one else was there. Was I lonely? I didn't think so at the time. Now when I look back on it I have a heaviness in my chest. I perceived it was my job to talk and make things merry in the large cavernous restaurant. It could get tiring. I would say fatiguing more than lonely.
I think may people miss their childhood homes, their countries and their families at Christmas. That is one of the reasons I love A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES by Dylan Thomas. It recalls each tiny memory spun in Christmas glitter.
I told my husband about my day thinking of loneliness for the first time in my entire life. As I was chatting while surfing the net, he said, "Let's check and see if you have any reviews of your new book on Amazon". We were revelling in all the five star reviews and then we saw one that was only 3 stars. We ground to a halt, read it, and found it was written by my cousin.