Family can be one of the tiniest boxes of all. History is part and parcel with belonging to a family and it is the breeding ground for that which I am struggling so hard against, conformity.
The holidays is probably the worst time of year for feeling the family want to squeeeeeeeze you into the box that represents what “has always been”. While I believe family members have the best of intentions when trying to plan for holiday meetings, preserve tradition, yahdah yahdah yahdah…I think there’s more to it. I sense that beneath the surface of trying to make things the way they “used to be” or keep things the way they’ve “always been” lurks a longing for something far less attainable, and as such, far more freightening to consider: that which never was.
Nostalgia is a rascal. When I think about the family holiday box, nostalgia rears it’s little head in disguise, as usual. He charms us with memories of the last time, or the first time, or the times in between. But the memories have been airbrushed and that’s why it’s so deceptive. We can remember the time when… and laugh, or smile, or sigh. But, when we’re remembering that, do we remember what was happening on the other side of the room, or in the basement or near the eggnog? Do we remember feeling excluded or ridiculed or singled out? Do we remember the comment that ruined dinner for half the room while the other half died laughing? Were we even aware that someone else may have experienced that moment very differently than we did?
I think that the things I most desperately want to be the way they “used to be” really were not all that great if I’m honest with myself and allow myself to remember the whole picture. But, my longing is real and it’s for something real, yet I am reluctant to admit that I’m longing for something I’ve never had to begin with. I wonder if family holiday boxes are longings in disguise by those of us who are afraid to say, we’ve never had…and boy, it sure would be nice.
I long for family gatherings where everyone feels loved and valued and cared for. I long for family to be a place of authentic community. And, if I’m honest, I know that that has never been. And further, I know that it may never be. At least not on the scale that attempts to bring the whole gang on board. So I ask myself, how then shall I live? I’ve tried to live by attempting to arrange the pieces and the people to fit into my own box, my fantasy box. I’ve tried to run interference and play one side against the middle and do the world’s greatest juggling act. But I’m not finding life in that.
I found life this Christmas in the one on one’s. I was most alive when I shared me with someone else, take me or leave me. I found life as I invited another to know me and love me just where I am and received love and authenticity in return.
I don’t know about yours, but mine is not one great big happy family and I don’t think it will ever be. But within my great big family I’ve experienced great big moments of feeling alive and free to just be and isn’t that better than the box?