This weekend we went to a suburban Cineplex Odeon Silver City for a late-Sunday afternoon screening of the multi-award nominated new movie Up in the Air, an up-to-the-minute recession-era story, if ever there was one.
The theatre was packed.
So, you must be wondering ...
How does this sardonic slice of a professional downsizer's life relate to the stresses of the season? Where's the "holiday" message in this sharp-edged portrait of a self-described shark in constant flight around the country firing people for profit and for corporate execs who haven't the guts to do it themselves?
If you've read anything about this movie – it world premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September – you know it's somewhat docu-dramatic. Bookended by clips of "talking heads" reacting to the news of their professional demise, you can't help feel for them – and for good reason.
They're not actors. They're for real.
Last January, Reitman interviewed these freshly "terminated" workers in St. Louis and Detroit, on location. I knew this backstory going into the theatre on Sunday afternoon, but it delivered an unexpected emotional double whammy for me.
Seeing these people gigantically magnified on the big screen, smashing away at desktops, breaking down in tears, I kept thinking about them now. Today. Eleven months later. In the back of my mind, while their lives were really disintegrating in front of us, I kept wondering about them and the thousands of people like them, right now, all around us. Everywhere.
Not just statistics. Real people. Really laid-off. What are the stresses they're feeling this holiday season?
This was the movie's subtext, for me.
Are they struggling to hold onto their homes? How are their families managing? Their kids? How is their mental and emotional health this Christmas 2009?
When you lose a job, you lose your identity, your confidence, your self-esteem, your daily routine, your purpose, your raison d'etre.
"It's like a death," as one man in the movie describes how being downsized feels.
Losing your job, after 10 or 20 or 30 years, is like losing your family, another man said, obviously in shock.
Isn't this season all about family? Friends? How can you celebrate when you've lost a huge chunk of your life, not to mention, your livelihood?
I thought about that, when I left my secure, full-time job after 30 years, on January 26, 2007. It was my choice, but still, I had nowhere to go. I felt rudderless, alone, isolated. Out of sight. Out of my work family's minds.
You spend five days a week working with your workmates and colleagues, more time awake at work over a lifetime than you do with your children, your spouse, your parents, your siblings and your friends.
It can be treacherous putting your life back together after it's been ripped away from you, any time of year, but especially at this time of year.
You have to keep reaching out. Even if you'd rather wrap yourself up in your flannels and bury yourself under the covers 'til Spring.
Yesterday afternoon, I called one of my dearest friends, to say hello.
"Oh, my daughter and I are in the middle of baking," she said sounding slightly breathless and quite stressed. "I'll call you later."
She didn't. That's okay. I'll call back. She bakes for her church. She gives of herself all the time. Her time. She's widowed. She takes anti-depressants and she has a strain of leukemia she has to keep an eye on, but she keeps on going and keeps on giving.
That's one way to manage holiday stress. Concentrate on giving your time to people who may benefit from your care and compassion.
Instead of sending an email, pick up the phone and call someone. There's nothing like the touch of your voice.
Smile as you run about doing all the things you're stressing out to do. There's nothing like the warmth of your smile. That warmth is contagious. Strangers smile often back.
Life is for the living and the giving. Right now.
Don't wait to do what you really want to do for someone else. One of the best ways to deal with stress any time of year is to plan, be realistic, give of yourself and take care of yourself, so you can take care of all the things you want to do for the people in your life.
"The holidays and Christmas are a time to take a good look around you," psychologist John H. Grohol wrote on his World of Psychology blog on December 13, 2003. His message is universal and timeless. Wise.
"The holidays are about finding something spiritual and wonderful about yourself, your life, and the people who fill it and make it special. Not to just give thanks or show appreciation through some materialistic and commercial sense, but to understand that you have a lot. Despite everything, you are alive, relatively well, and have a life filled with people that love you.
"Yes, you may not realize it or even believe it to be true, but it is nonetheless. You may feel unlovable, unloved, unhappy, stressed out. But those are the simply untruths we tell ourselves every day. The frequency of the telling doesn't make them come true."
* * *
So, keep your comments coming. Share your memories, your concerns. Give a little. Anything that's on your mind. You'll feel good. It's therapeutic. Cathartic. Generous.
I'll respond. It may take me some time – I'm madly stressing out over my end of term marking – but I won't forget.
I'm here and we're all in this together.