Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

The Sunshine of a Mind Freshly Cleaned for the Holidays

The holidays are infamous for mythical images—unerringly loving families gathered before a perfectly formed, well decorated tree, eating a sumptuous, beautifully prepared feast. The folks around the table bow their heads in a unified prayer to a deity they all picture as looking like them. No wonder people are so fond of A CHRISTMAS STORY in which the family ends up eating Chinese food for Christmas because dogs seized their roast turkey. Our family ate spaghetti in a barren apartment so the Jehovah’s Witnesses could claim they hadn’t really celebrated Christmas.

People aren’t built to be flawless. I grew up watching the Cleaver family on TV—a mother who never appeared without wearing pearls and a shirtwaist dress and a father who could remain calm in any situation. Even as a child, I couldn’t help wondering if Mrs. Cleaver wore a dress and stockings to clean the toilets. What was supposed to represent an American ideal looked silly.

Few families can gather without any hint of resentment arising. We’re human. Even Michelle Obama, being interviewed on her recent book tour, commented good-naturedly that her mother likes her brother best. Michelle describes her memoir and much of her life as an attempt to make the abnormal feel normal. But what’s abnormal? We’re all as different as we are the same. No wonder her book sells so well.

So we can predict that we’ll face some disagreements if we gather into groups during the holiday. And what about the people who sit alone, imagining the rest of us having a wonderful time? I once attended a holiday dinner in which the pecan pie had been baked for four hours. Pecans have a peculiar, nearly inedible consistency when they’ve been baked for four hours. Chocolate turns into an expensive version of tar. But we the guests did our best to consume a slice of pie, secretly congratulating ourselves that for one holiday, at least, we weren’t in any danger of over-eating. People sitting alone, you aren’t missing perfection.

Some celebrations are downright dangerous. Violent crimes are common—partly because lots of us drink our way through the expectations. Much of what we say we believe about peace on Earth, good will to all is NOT what we believe—especially when Uncle Larry gets on his high horse and starts preaching at everybody or Aunt Maggie demonstrates the finer points of passive aggression. The insecure members of the group feel justified in attempting to control or at least judge everyone else.

On a serious note, our community suffered tragic deaths recently. Death has a way of forcing people to sort out what they believe. Do you stop living in honor of the person who has passed? Would that person be pleased by your sacrifice? What are you saying about honoring yourself?

I’m working on believing in living as fully as possible—just as we are. I think mine is a kind of rebellion against all those who would convince us that life is supposed to be a contest with winners and losers. I know I can’t buy enough stuff to make anyone’s life kinder. Only love has a chance of making progress there. And loving everyone—including my whole, messy self—is a tall order. But I think that’s what good will looks like…and it isn’t just toward men, but toward us all. When we love, when we empathize and let ourselves feel our sameness, we create peace.

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