It’s 11am the day before Thanksgiving, and in my Midtown office, I can see it has started to snow. It’s pretty gorgeous from the 30th floor (a place I will spend one more week) and I can’t help but feel like I am in a protective winter tower, safely watching the chilly outside world from my warm box of an office.
But when you open up CNN, as usual, you are handed a big dose of negativity. EXPECT LONG HOLIDAY DELAYS. FLIGHTS CANCELLED. HOLIDAY TRAVEL NIGHTMARES. Oh CNN, I can always trust you to make me feel anxious. But I got thinking about all the frustrated people who may end up sitting in airports or on a stopped highway tonight. Isn’t it still pretty damn awesome that you get to go somewhere (and have the money to do so)? I am by no means romanticizing traffic or flight delays, but a conversation I had with someone in my office yesterday put things in perspective.
She very nicely asked about my holiday plans and I tried to describe the schedule we were attempting to nail down while jumping between two families. “Ah, the magic of in-laws,” she said with a taunting sigh. I have a terrible poker face, so I’m sure she could tell I was taken aback by her idea that I was burdened by the idea of having “too many people” to visit for a holiday.
And then I realized it was because she wasn’t going anywhere this weekend. I went from being judgmental to feeling overwhelmingly sad for her. “I never bother traveling this time of year,” she said with a smile. Oh Lord! You’re killing me here, lady. “Eleanor Rigby” starts tragically playing in my head. She THEN told me that she did have family she could visit but the thought of the stress of traveling bothered her too much.
Now I know that this is a personal thing to judge, and I may be crossing some lines here, especially for how friendly I try to keep my blog, but I came close to passing on some wisdom I was given last year.
Dairy Queen Thanksgiving of 2004
My family has had issues for years getting along on holidays, especially Thanksgiving. In highschool, if we could get through dinner without someone leaving the table in anger, it was a success. One year, I had a friend come pick me up when the madness ensued. We sat in the Dairy Queen parking lot until what I now think was a drug deal went down. But I was too naïve to know at the time. Cue:”Happy Holidaaaays”
So to say the least there has always been a sense of dread when approaching this time of year, matched up with an equally unpleasant sense of resentment toward people with “happy families.”
It wasn’t until I met Ben that I learned families could be aggressively loving, even when they face the issues that families naturally face. They make an effort, and accept that when your family can be together, waiting on a plane in the snow is a small price to pay. Someone very close to me sat me down last year and very directly explained what her father once told her. Family takes work, and it is an effort worth making. He explained that though you may be worn out at family events, you should recognize how special they are, and that some people never have this opportunity.
This was a message that set many things straight for me. I took this idea into account when wedding planning, and pursued the family members who originally felt unwelcome to a large event, simply because we never had them. Also, before my grandmother passed away, I finally realized that you could take off of work to go see a family member who needed you. Sounds obvious, right? But I realized I had been stuck in the mindset of angry childhood holidays for way too long, and that it was my generation’s responsibility to change the tradition of letting these opportunities simply pass.
It is not my place to tell my 60-something year old supervisor to make an effort to see her family, nor is it my place to make anyone feel guilty about getting stressed when they do go home to issues. I get it, I left dinner for a Dairy Queen parking lot drug deal once. You cannot fix people, even those you love, but you can represent the opportunity for change. You can choose to be the calm one, the enthusiastic one, the one who listens, or the one willing to wait on a delayed airplane. It could catch on, even if it never solves your family’s problems.
This is starting to sound like Home Alone, I know.
And of course I don’t just mean biological family. Whether they’re blood related, your friends, your door man, your dog, or those great people who own the restaurant down the street where you eat every year. Someone you love is worth sitting in traffic or walking through the snow for.
So turn up the early radio Christmas music, and be thankful for gridlock. You’ll get to where you’re going eventually. And there is always the opportunity for something better this year, even if it’s a small step.
And if things get stressful, look at this Thanksgiving cat.