By Kara Haug
Every Christmas Eve, when I was growing up, my family attended the late-night church service. My brothers and I would wait for the moment when the candles were lit to sing “Silent Night.” We waited because, without a doubt, our mother’s chin would begin to quiver, and tears would stream down her cheek. We would all look at each other and giggle. Even in high school, we would still all giggle as if to say, “Look, mom is crying again.” Looking back, it is a bit silly that we would respond that way, yet as adults, we tell our kids to look at Grandma to capture the sight of her vulnerability and tears.
Though we would snicker at her, it’s something that I love the most about my mother. I recognize that at that moment, all of my mother’s hopes and dreams come to gather. My mother becomes like a child, seeking solace in another innocent child- born in a moment of peace- away from the world and its harsh realities. It’s a time where she feels unconditional love and great gratitude.
Both of my children had particular songs that they wanted me to sing to them each night. My son likes “Hush Little Baby,” and my daughter always asked for “Silent Night.” There is something sweet about “Silent Night” that brought her to a place of rest and solace – as it does for my mother. When I would sing it to her, her little body would instantly relax, she would breathe deeply, and she allowed herself to let go. Her body would rest in the stillness of the silent night, and her worries would slip away through our nighttime tradition.
December brings a time of waiting. Children await Christmas day and unwrapping of presents, and we look forward to time away from work to be with friends and family. For some, the busyness of this time of year with parties, obligations, cards, and gift-buying can make life seem more chaotic and stressful. However, there are also moments where we sit in our living rooms with the lights down low, drinking hot chocolate, and taking in the ambiance of the lighted tree casting shadows of our loved ones. We remember those who have passed, we think of those who are with us, and we wonder. In the silence of the night, we are invited into the place where we can slow down and notice. We notice the way the lights shimmer and twinkle, not just on the tree, but in the eyes of those we love. Like the times when I would sing to my daughter, and she would wrap my arms around her in the darkness of her room – it is a time where we reach out and hold on to traditions, hope, family, and love.
We live in a time when it seems like we need reminders to practice civility, intimacy, and vulnerability. We get easily distracted by the busyness of life and the glow of our screens. We should be in the moment, seeing the goodness in those close to us. These silent nights can serve as a reminder of what is important. It is about loving and learning how to do that the best we can.
As a Sexual Health Educator, I spend a lot of time teaching youth to recognize intimacy and empathy. I help them realize that the risk that comes with vulnerability is essential in creating healthy relationships. We also spend time going over how good communication looks even though it can be challenging. We are not always shown the beauty that happens when we open ourselves up, especially when we can sit with others in the stillness of a room.
Love is not always about feelings and passion. It also is about being steadfast, working through the difficult moments together, sacrificing when needed, being the receiver at times, showing up, and listening. Love is about creating healthy boundaries to care for our souls and helping others learn about theirs. This is what we can remember and commit to doing more of when we are silent. I know that families and communities can have differences, and learning how to work together can be quite hard. No one promised us it would be easy. We need to work for what we want in our relationships, and though we may not be successful every time, be willing to try again with dignity. We need to help our children learn how to do the same.
In this holiday season, during a year in which we all have endured sadness, sacrifice, loss, grief, and pain, we can still feel a sense of unconditional love and hope as we remember what is important. May we become a community who reaches out and sees the wonder and sparkle in the eyes of our neighbors and those we hold dear. May we learn to be comfortable again in the silence and stillness of a room, and may we embrace intimacy and vulnerability.
Last year, I was not able to be with my mother at Christmas, and when “Silent Night” was sung, I was the one with the tears, and I missed her. I felt vulnerable, and for a moment, a sense of hope, gratitude, and love.