The holidays bring out great excitement and great joy in many of us. Not surprisingly, they also bring out great dread. In speaking with a business associate the other day, he said “Family is why I moved over 900 miles away.” Someone said to me today “I dread this vacation idea – it’s work. It is not my idea of a vacation.”
The holidays call many of us to reconnect with family, to see those we may never see at any other time of year. The initial joy of holding those you have missed can quickly get shifted to a feeling of disappointment, judgement, or even dislike.
Through some invisible force, family reunions call you to look in a mirror. They call you to see the many ways you have changed, as well as the many ways in which you haven’t. When you judge family members, my first question is who is looking, the person you have become or the person you used to be? Are you judging them because they have changed or because you have? Are you judging them because they haven’t changed or because you haven’t? It takes real deep looking within sometimes to know the answers.
We have all changed, hopefully. Can you permit those others to change? Can you permit them to still be human, nonetheless? What about their feeling nervous? Feeling inadequate? Controlling? Forgetful? When you have trouble permitting others their humanity, it is frequently because you haven’t yet permitted yourself to be human either. When you can laugh at your own humanity, your own need to be rigid, controlling, or even forgetful, it is so much easier to laugh at that in others.
This holiday season is just beginning. Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, and so many other religious and secular holidays are coming up at this time of year. What a gift you give yourself if you take the time to remember that we are all walking this journey together even if it feels like we are thousands of miles apart.
Avoid politics; accept that we are all different to varying degrees, and without the need to be right, smart, or holy, simply focus on the fact that family is family. Family dynamics reflect the best and worst of your parents and the relatives who have chosen to perpetuate those dynamics, often leading to defensiveness and the predictable results of trying to prove someone right or wrong, smart or dumb. If your crowd is above all that, give thanksgiving.
Deep breathe. Remember if these were the biggest problems in your life you would be blessed beyond words. Smile, laugh, and remember it is only for a day or two. Then look within. For better or worse, this is family. A few characters, a few saints, and a whole lot of laughter if you allow yourself to simply appreciate the differences, the generations, and the amazing journeys you have all taken. The one place where you can know everything and yet nothing about those you are spending time with.
Ask questions, lots of questions, over the next month or more. Discover who they are, not who you think they are. You may be wonderfully, and lovingly surprised. Besides, Thanksgiving is only the warmup….