I don’t want to attend Thanksgiving dinner with my family this year. There, I said it. I feel guilty and ungenerous.
People travel hundreds of miles to attend our family get-togethers. They go out of their way to contribute, or host one of these parties. Our events are fun; they have names like soiree or shindig.
We eat well, play games, and laugh uproariously. A good time is had by all.
By contrast, my friend, Bonnie, shared stories of her holidays:
“Every year we had to go to Aunt Gladys’ house. Every year Aunt Gladys would stuff the turkey the night before; and every year everyone who ate stuffing would get food-poisoning. I don’t know if anyone ever tried to tell Aunt Gladys about it–I sure didn’t,” Bonnie told me.
We talked, and tried to laugh about it. We tried to make her dread okay, something that she could manage for a couple of hours. She predicted the headache she would get on the way there. It would take twelve or more hours for it to fade after she got home. She shared how some of her family members would get too drunk to eat, others would become angry and violent.
I marveled at ignoring the toxic food, the toxic atmosphere. I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t just not go.
That is why we need a great deal of courage to challenge our own beliefs. Because even if we know we didn’t choose all these beliefs, it is also true that we agreed to all of them. The agreement is so strong that even if we understand the concept of it not being true, we feel the blame, the guilt, and the shame that occur if we go against these rules. Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
Now, I have the option to not attend. Family members may be disappointed, but no-one will harangue me, or hold a permanent grudge. I make killer cranberry sauce, but I can hand the recipe over, and no-one will be hurt.
And you may ask, What’s the big deal? You don’t have giant elephants in your living room, the holidays aren’t that bad. I wrestle to name it, to figure out why I rebel so thoroughly against doing what is “expected” of me.
Do What Matters
I want to talk about things that matter in the eternal way, make plans to do something radical and dangerous, working for something besides ever-illusive security. Working together we could accomplish so much–and instead of talking about how we make a new guilt-free dessert, I’d like to talk about how we are going to help in Syria, cuddle un-parented babies, or hug folks who haven’t had a bath in a while.
My heart is broken in so many ways, and I don’t want to just cry about it. I want to talk about it to people who listen, then ask how they can help. And then help. All of us, helping. That would be amazing.
I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all. Leo Rosten
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