[Note from Elizabeth: As I was contemplating upon the theme “Christmas ain’t the same for everyone,” I reached out to friends asking not just “What has this Christmas or Holiday season been to you this year?” — But what would that truth look like captured as an image? This is one powerful response that I received. A picture of an old ‘Jungle Book’ read-along. Intrigued, I asked the poster to share further, and she gave me permission to share her response here.]
Life, unfortunately, has left me rather mistrustful and fearful when it comes to love, emotional intimacy and relationships in general. The holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Years, which dredges up old memories and brings emotions to the surface, only serves to intensify and exacerbate these fears. Many of those of us who have been through trauma will relate– this time of year is often emotional overload. The ups and downs are rapid and extreme. I experience every emotion under the sun during this season, and this year was no exception.
There was lots of love and laughter with family and friends. There were tears shed because I was unable to be with others I love. There was sadness because of loved ones lost. There was fear of what “might” happen, and the pain from what actually ended up happening. And then there is the anger, boiling ever present beneath the surface. The anger that I use to protect myself– to mask the fear.
Yet, this year, there was one gift in particular that allowed me to see through all the mess, the pain, the highs and lows, and the anger– as it cut to the quick and reminded me of the gift that is Christmas, and that was the Jungle Book.
Perhaps that sounds a bit weird–especially coming from a middle aged woman– but let me give you some back story.
As a little girl growing up, I had very few material things. My fondest memories – of my possessions – were 3 things: my little horse Pambo (early 1960s sit and scoot riding horse), a portable record player and one record – the Jungle Book, which came with a read-along book. I recall laying on on the floor with my head on Pambo, reading and singing along. I felt so alive and happy in those moments. Often, to drown out the sound of violent fighting coming from the other room, I would take my Pambo and my record to a remote corner of our very small house and turn up the volume as loud as I could. Jungle Book and Pambo were my “safe place”.
Then, at 8 years old our house caught fire. It was not a total loss, but it was pretty bad. My record player and Jungle Book were burned completely – and Pambo was damaged. I couldn’t ride or play with Pambo anymore, but still I kept her. No matter how many years have passed, I still think of that old record player and the Jungle Book record with the read along book. It is a memory that returns to me again and again.
Now, I am middle aged and newly married. I have chosen to allow a man into my life– to trust him to know and love me. My husband has heard this story a few times and he has seen the emotions this story wakes up in me– emotions that I often prefer to keep tucked safely away. This Christmas, I unwrapped my gift from him, and lo-and-behold it was a small portable record player and Jungle Book – complete with the read along book. It is in fact the original recording – the very same! Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with emotion. There was no stopping the tears.
Why would such a seemingly childish gift embody what this Christmas means to me?
It is about true love. A love that is absolute and unconditional. My husband knows me. He knows my soul. He knew me well enough to know what I needed at the right time to put away questions, and embrace healing. To discard uncertainty and to embrace trust. To open my heart, and allow myself to feel the sting in couple of areas that I had been hiding. His gift showed me that I can (and should) be vulnerable. Even writing this I feel like I should “hide,” but I choose not to– because I know I am safe with him. Are all my fears gone? No but I know that he will never leave me. I will always have a ‘safe space’ to run to. The safe space that my little girl heart longed to find.
And the birth of Christ signifies just that. Born to bring us into the family of God, and to love us unconditionally – regardless of how we feel about ourselves. To comfort our pain and quiet our fears. To allow us to come to Him and know we are safe, because He will never leave us, and there is nothing that can separate us from His Great Love.
In the midst of all the fun and the pain, the laughter and the sadness, the joy and the fear, THIS– this unconditional love is what I needed to experience most. This gift is what I needed to let myself accept.
This was what Christmas was to me.
Nanette Slappey West
Nanette has been a lifelong advocate for women and children at-risk. Whether through her service in as a director of the women’s crisis center, as a teacher, as a volunteer, or a friend, she embodies selfless love for others. She is a warrior who has been through the fire– more than most could imagine– and come out burning *as the fire.* She is a powerful force, and a person I have always looked up to and will always admire for her strength, compassion, and love. Her husband, Steve is a truly lucky man. (Also, if you think we look a bit alike– yes, we are related, and no, I am not at all biased in writing this bio. ;)– xoxo Elizabeth )