I gave up on Christmas when I was 16. It wasn’t Christmas’ fault: In the throes of puberty, a series of disappointments had left me in existential despair. Awkward and acutely self-conscious, I measured myself against my peers and found myself wanting. My friends had done some measuring of their own, and their repeated small rejections broke my heart. On Christmas Eve, with the mocking lights of the houses across the street twinkling through my window, I lay in bed, recalling with bitterness the simple joy that this night used to bring, before my belief in magic withered and I saw the world as it truly was. Life, it was now abundantly clear, was full of suffering and injustice. In desperation, you could pray for help and no help would come. We were all ultimately alone.
I was wrong about most of that, or at least about the conclusions I drew from the hard realities. Paradoxically, it wasn’t just wonderful experiences that gradually transformed my perspective, but also the most painful ones: loving and losing. Enduring the death of my brother some years ago and of my father this year. Witnessing my teenage daughter’s own encounter with despair. It was through these and other struggles that I came to understand—was taught, somehow—that despite its cruelties and suffering, life is hardly pointless, but rich with meaning. Our bonds with each other, I learned, are stronger than our isolation, stronger even than death. I came to appreciate the heroism and nobility of every individual life, and of the light humanity chooses to shine even in the darkest hour. Merry Christmas, my friends, and happy Hanukkah.