The annual holiday emotions

A post on Thanksgiving Day should be a slam dunk.  Conjure up the Norman Rockwell painting, make up a list of all the things we’re thankful for and dig into the turkey and cranberry sauce.  That’s the sermon we’re accustomed to, but realistically it may be less than the truthful narrative that takes place on the last Thursday of the month.

More believable is this ironic quip attributed to Ram Dass, the American teacher of spirituality popular in the 1970s: “If you think you’re enlightened, go visit your family.”

For me the one-liner is more than a witticism, it is wise insight and a reminder that the gathering of families, including the relatively happy ones, evokes memories, rivalries and disappointments of childhood.  And suddenly, without warning, there we are, triggered by some innocuous reference or inadvertent remark, taking umbrage at a fancied slight we thought we had gotten over years ago; unconsciously reverting to the role we once played as part of the family dynamic even through the person we are now has little to do with who we were then!

I’ve been both the victim of and the person responsible for the flaring temper that resulted when my children and I related to each other as if nothing had changed from the time when we lived together.  We simply could not avoid seeing each other through the myth of “the family story,” reacting as we once did when our relationship was ‘parental authority figure in charge of kids growing up.’  It happens; regardless of how successfully we work through the family stuff, hidden resentments occasionally can burst out as we assume our old roles.

Thankfully, I’ve learned to revise the script.  This Thanksgiving day, sitting at the end of the table as the family patriarch, I will carefully avoid slipping into the wise-father groove and viewing my daughters as the “girls” I watched grow up decades ago.  (I sometimes forget they are women in their forties with husbands and families of their own!).

Like all of us, I’ve left family gatherings of the past with feelings chafed.  But I’ve learned to convert my apprehensions into loving intentions.  The turkey tastes so much better!

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