It has been many years since I have shared a holiday with the family I grew up with. At this point, probably more than 10 years. And, despite the memories of turbulent encounters, I have often fondly reflected on those rare moments when we sat around a table, connected by our shared DNA, our resilience that allowed us to still break bread and our eagerness to put aside the turmoil that characterized our family.
But those experiences were rare and, more typically, the holidays have been a complicated mixture of disappointment over unrealized expectations combined with a genuine desire to create new traditions and overcome the loss that had so unfortunately become intertwined and associated with the season. So, each year, as the leaves start to turn and fall wistfully to the ground, piling up as a mounting reminder of the changes ahead, I walk with trepidation through the days and weeks that lead up to the holiday season. As I have grown older, I have learned how to check in with myself, adept at identifying any pangs of anxiety or sadness that might overshadow the opportunities to be merry and enjoy what others find to be the most joyous time of the year. I gingerly step through the dropping temperatures, donning my warmer clothes to blanket myself from the potential blizzard of emotions that might disrupt my homeostasis and send me into a free fall that ends the day the Christmas tree is kicked to the curb.
When I am being reflective, I tend to think that I was chosen for this life. I imagine that my ethereal soul, as it floated through the universe, looking for a suitable host, was hand selected for the job of spending eighty or so years in my body, living my life, enduring my personal journey. I sometimes imagine that at the casting call, my soulful being showed strength and a capacity for endurance that outweighed the competition and landed me in the starring role in this life. I believe that I was chosen because I am special. Because I am capable. Because I am wise and bold and robust and I can endure all that comes my way. I am certain that I was the exact right one for the part.
Despite some of the complexities and the disruptions, I know how to navigate this life. Strange as it sounds, it makes complete sense to me. What I find foreign and disorienting is the normalcy that so many around me experience. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time worrying that if I ended up spending my life with someone who came from a stable and healthy family that I would stick out like a sore thumb. There would be no way for me to hide my damage, blend into the wallpaper and cover up my inability to exist in their well-adjusted and peaceful world. My rough edges, cracks and imperfections would be highlighted with bright neon lights showcasing them all. Instead, perhaps by intention or simply divine intervention, I found someone like me. Someone who had been broken down and wanted a chance at a fresh start, an opportunity to fix what went wrong. We thought that together we might prove that two wrongs do, in fact, make a right. Maybe our science experiment would be award-worthy or, rather, we would ultimately combust. So far, so good. Maybe we broke the curse.
As this year’s holiday approached, for the first time in as many years as I could remember, I felt no heaviness. There was no dread, no worry, no anticipatory disappointment. This came as a great surprise because, of all years, this would be one that should be mired in darkness and dismay. After all, this year has been heavy and daunting and overwhelming. Roadblocks and obstacles were strewn along the course, proving my journey difficult and, sometimes, seemingly impassable. I believed, more frequently than not, that this year I would finally break and nothing would be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. There would be no glue to repair the complicated mosaic of my life. Yet, to my surprise most of all, I endured and, remarkably, found myself looking at the leaf piles, feeling the wind on my cheeks and wrapping my scarf tightly around my neck, not to protect myself from those familiar elements but to simply to seek comfort in the warmth radiating from inside of me. I bundled myself up, snuggled in the knowledge that I was ok. As I stared down the last weeks of this year, I felt proud that I had walked through yet another pit of fire and came out just a little charred. And maybe, even a little bit stronger than how I entered.
The dread that encompasses me as the summer turns to fall, as Halloween descends, as the turkeys appear in the market, as the Christmas decorations overtake the stores is noticeably absent this year. I am light and airy and feeling as free as that same ethereal being that floated around 47 years ago before it found its way to my small body, giving it life and a heart and a mind. I am peaceful and hopeful of the road ahead knowing that, while our burdens have not been lifted (in fact, they are as great as they have ever been), we are a strong unit, working together and grateful for what we have created. We are sad because we had to say goodbye to a four-legged family member, marking Thanksgiving week as a forever remembrance of our last hugs with our beloved pet. We have large hills to climb and challenges that will test our mettle and we are hopeful and optimistic and choosing to live and let go of everything non-essential. We are leaving behind those that choose not to row with us and are filling our boat with a crew committed to making us stronger and successful.
I am humbled by the people who have chosen – not by my request but by their own desire – to swaddle me and my family in a blanket of love. No, we do not have mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters who share our lives with us. We are a small unit of four and we create a magnificent tapestry compiled of strangers who have become friends who have become our family. We can laugh and cry and share our hearts, our joy, our sadness, our most important moments with others who make us feel like we are connected to the universe. Who remind us that we will not float away because we have anchors who keep us tethered. Sometimes I forget they are there because they don’t look like me and didn’t come from the same family tree but then, when the road gets messiest and I am careening towards a ditch, I am suddenly rescued and usually from the most unlikely saviors.
This holiday I am not sad. I am not anxious. I am not overwhelmed at the thought of trying to manufacture an experience for my children that will fill the holes left inside me. No, this holiday, I am filled with abundance. I am joyful and grateful to continue to show my children how the fabric of our lives is created. Sure, for some, it is simple. They have deep-woven blends that keep them warm through the coldest months and the toughest of times. For us, we have designed a quilt that fits us perfectly and gives us just the warmth we need.