As the novelist Taylor Caldwell -- who won a medal at the age of six for writing an essay on Charles Dickens -- once wrote: “I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”
The holidays can be difficult if reality doesn’t meet expectations, or if you have loved ones far away, have suffered a loss or feel alone. It seems for many of us, merriment is often mixed with melancholy: life and the world isn’t always what we want it to be and we get down.
I remember when I lost my mom, who raised my 10 siblings and I, days before Christmas; or when I lost my younger sister to drug addiction not long before the holidays; or when my oldest son was in Iraq over Christmas on his first tour of duty in the Army serving his country. At these moments it was hard to embrace the “Christmas spirit." Frequently, the memories of a hard time can carry over into Christmases yet to come and feelings of sadness well up in our hearts and cast a fog around the bright lights of the day.
It has occurred to me that being by yourself is very different than feeling lonely. I have often felt full and in a place of joy when I was on the road alone, and many times my greatest sense of loneliness was when other people around me were celebrating. But as Caldwell said, you must remember we are never alone.
I have been around many celebrities and politically powerful people who felt very alone in the midst of their busy lives, so fame or fortune doesn't protect us from those feelings.
If you are a person of faith, you can embrace the hope and promise of this time. If you are not a person of religious faith, you can recall those who you have loved or those who love you so you might feel less alone. Often it is the things we want most -- closeness, connection and love -- that we unintentionally block in ourselves that prevent us from getting what we hunger for and need.
It is when we face our fears and reach out even though we are afraid that we find the things we are searching for. I am grateful that most times I have had the courage, through being broken from loss, to open up, let my heart grow bigger and heal in the process. We do have a choice. We can either become more jaded and bitter, or we can broaden our connection and become more compassionate and hopeful.
Most families and communities don't conform to the Rockwellian ideal, and when we can let that fiction go, we can experience our humanity in all its imperfections. It is in those imperfections that we can experience the gift of the blessedness of this life.
Each of us will experience sadness or feel a sense of deep loneliness at some point in our lives, and in my more than half-century on this Earth, I have found the best way to escape those feelings is to reach out to others with compassion and caring, even if it is just smiling at the twists and turns of daily life. When I touch someone with an affectionate word or action, even a stranger, I am touched, and feel part of something bigger than my own concerns.
I wish you each the ability to be grateful for the gifts you receive during this holiday season, even if some of those are painful. Those hurts give you the capacity to grow into the beautiful being you were always meant to be. By turning toward the light and away from the darkness, we can not only build a better, brighter and more meaningful lives for ourselves, but also the kind of community and country we are called to do as our purpose.
Merry Christmas to each of you, and may you know you are loved. And may you embrace moments of fullness and joy today, replacing the memories of being alone with togetherness and a bond of kindness.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.