I am melancholic yet brimming with hope. I have an uncanny ability to hold diametrically opposite feelings, thoughts, and beliefs at the same time. This results in a life in which my thoughts, emotions, and actions do not always match up, no matter how desperately I attempt to live a holistic life. And the holiday season (Thanksgiving through Christmas) clearly demonstrates this/my messiness and mismatched-ness.
Holidays are difficult for a myriad of reasons. For some, family is a source of pain and poison. Thick defenses are built up over years to keep family (and the pain associated with them) at a distance. For others holidays serve as reminders of what once was and is no longer, or of what is still lacking. I have good friends who silently suffer these and other pains each holiday as they are reminded that they are the only child not married, are forced to schedule their time to decrease the chance that their parents (and step-family) will interact, etc., etc., etc.
For me holidays are stressful because their preparation and the balancing of others’ expectations falls to/on me. Call it the “middle child” or the “only girl” syndrome, but I find myself turning into Cinderella (literally on my hands and knees scrubbing floors) and begrudging everyone for it. I start out the holiday season viewing what will befall me as a way of caring for and loving others. That positivity ebbs with each curse uttered under my breath while dragging out boxes of decorations, designing menus around people’s preferences and dietary needs, and scouring the house. By the time the actual holiday, celebration arrives I am frustrated with a heaping side of self-loathing.
I love my family. But the worst of us comes out at holidays. My mom stresses (to the point of making herself sick) over her failure to achieve a goal unknown to her family. My dad is so preoccupied with being a provider that he turns himself off to the world. Typically he works on a crossword puzzle or reads in the living room while others scurry around getting food on the table. Each of my three brothers (+ significant others) has his own way of dealing with things, which bothers at least one sibling to some degree. My sweet, aged and dementia-ridden grandma sits in the large green chair in the family room alternating between petting the dog and napping. While my black-sheep of an uncle can be found in the kitchen or snuffing out his Marlboros in a white coffee cup-turn-ashtray in the backyard.
Then there is me. I get done what needs to be done without (audible) complaint, but with bitterness. I make myself miserable and I HATE IT. When this is my state of mind/action, I lose sight of who and what is important. I desire so much more but I cannot, for the life of me, do what I want and can do. I keep silent instead of asking questions. I so preoccupy myself with others’ expectations and desires that I shut down. I emotionally separate myself from my family. I get it all done at the expense of being present.
What do I want? I want to linger over food, drinks, laughter, stories and conversation for hours; getting to know better the people I love most in this world. It is silly to me that I spend (at a minimum) three days shopping, cleaning, preparing and cooking food to spend two hours (at best) enjoying a meal together. Food, drink and communal eating is (rather, I want it to be) a spiritual, life-giving experience. Why then do we gulp it all down, race to get the dishes off the table (and once off the table, why not wash them so the food remnants does not have time to harden), and fill tupperware with leftovers?
I want, nay I need more. Much more. At some point over the last few of years this want crossed the blurred boundary between want and need. I need more. I will wither without more.
I am thankful. Yet I long for so much more of myself for my family, for my friends, for this world…
– mewithoutYou, “Life in C Minor”
– matt pond PA, “Amazing Life”
– Sufjan Stevens, “Vito’s Ordination Song”
– The Weepies, “Can’t Go Back Now”