I was cooling my heels at the supermarket checkout yesterday morning when I heard part of an old Three Dog Night hit.
“Dress up tonight, why be lonely?
You’ll stay at home and you’ll be alone.
So why be lonely?
Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music
Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music….”
Oddly, the song didn’t make me feel nostalgic for the late 1960s. Hearing it, I just had to smile. I simply felt glad to be alive. I felt thankful that I had some groceries and would soon be able to pay for them.
While I walked across the parking lot to the car, I thought about how many of us tend to celebrate less often as we age. There seems to be fewer attainments of goals to commemorate. Often, we feel we need to invent reasons to celebrate. The happy talk of self-help gurus begins to sound phony after awhile.
Maybe we turn to marketed versions of celebration. Our favorite sports team makes the playoffs or captures the championship. Certainly, that feels exciting, for awhile. There are the traditional social holidays, like Christmas or Halloween that we sometimes feel obligated to celebrate.
Perhaps you recently attended a graduation ceremony. Graduation is certainly worthy of celebration. These are all well and good celebrations. However, they feel more structured and less spontaneous.
A person doesn’t need to struggle to find reasons to celebrate life. Maybe you have a friend or two who exchange visits at each others’ homes. You know that he will drop by on the spur of the moment and you know you willingly do the same for him, just because you’re pals. When those mutual visits happen, don’t we feel light hearted and thankful?
If you have one friend with whom to share each one another’s company, from time to time, that is something increasingly rare in today’s fast-paced, information-packed society. During tough times, if someone is there for you, and you are there for him, isn’t this something to celebrate? If you can count on each other for support and sincere compassion, don’t you want to extol that relationship?
Certainly, your friend comes over to congratulate you on your birthday. He brings a small gift and patiently listens when you reminisce about the past and express your hopes for the future. He makes you the star for the day, and you make him the star on his day. This interchange is quite praiseworthy, for certain.
When he loses a loved one to death, you find a way to come to his side with a hug and open ears to console his heavy heart. He has done the same for you, as well. The petty platitudes and awkwardness expressed by others are absent with your friend. There are only the mutual feelings of empathy and sympathy. You are eager to share those deep expressions with each other. This is a time of deep, solemn celebration.
Usually, we think of celebration as an exceptional time-out. A nation, in the midst of turmoil and conflict, will take time to commemorate an important national holiday. Although the event may have a reminder on the calendar and certain rituals accompany the holiday, the celebration of it gives us all a break from the negativity, albeit for just a few hours.
On the other hand, if we harbor expectations about a holiday, an anniversary, a birthday, or what have you, any celebration will ultimately seem superficial. If we don’t receive kudos or a gift, there might be disappointment. If our special day is overlooked by others, we might feel a sense of betrayal and resentment. When we make celebration only about ourselves, these emotions emerge. We might make merry, but we don’t sincerely celebrate.
Celebratory commemoration is great when another person is involved. I have noticed that celebration feels best, when I’ve taken time out to personally contribute to another person’s celebration. I feel humbled if somebody has traveled across a considerable distance to be by my side to celebrate my milestone. Either way, I can celebrate the true depth of celebration.
We might know people who spend a small fortune for a wedding, graduation, or Christmas. Maybe someone you know throws lavish birthday parties or social mixers. Certainly these events can be meaningful and even fun. Aren’t they also displays of status and the seeds of envy?
When I turned sixteen, my grandma Johnson once told me that if I felt jealous or hung-over after a party, then I haven’t really celebrated. She said even if I attend a party out of a sense of social obligation, that I should curb any self-indulgence I may feel. The party is all about everybody together.
Many of us feel lonely and isolated when holidays and birthdays arrive. Maybe we want to celebrate, but there’s nobody close with whom to share a little fling. We may postpone the celebration or we may overspend on a major indulgence. Birthdays and the winter holidays for single people can be dreadful times during which, we singles must endure.
If your close family lives in a distant place or has passed away and you have few friends around to help you celebrate life, you may be tempted to treat a holiday as just another day. This rarely works, because we feel a deeper emptiness at a time when we really wish for some company.
I know this from the frequent assignments to show up for work on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Intellectually, I understood the business’ need for a warm body behind the microphone at the radio station. Inside, I felt alone and exiled from society. My younger self would spiral into a dark, self-centered sadness.
One bitterly cold Thanksgiving morning, an elderly listener called to tell me how much she appreciated that I was on the radio. She said my voice had been keeping her company on that lonesome holiday. I then remembered that countless other people were home alone or at work on Thanksgiving, yearning for the fellowship of others. I listened as she remembered her long departed husband and her family who long ago moved to California and forgot about her. When she finished, I felt quite grateful for her phone call. We then sincerely thanked each other. The rest of the day evolved into a beautiful celebration of Thanksgiving.
The lesson was, that we need to genuinely reach out to at least one other person, in person, to have a good celebration. Easing the loneliness of even one other person is one of the best ways to celebrate our own lives.