Archive for November, 2015
It’s right around this time of year when an assignment comes due. This isn’t an assignment at work or at the career center where I volunteer — it’s one I owe my family.
Thanksgiving hasn’t even hit, and it’s Christmas List time in my think-ahead family. When I complete the assignment of emailing my mom some things I’d like as gifts, I’m sure to feel the same way I’ve felt each year after sending that email: materialistic.
There’s no avoiding it. I will have just sent a message about, you guessed it, material goods. And I will have thrown out the window the idea of need and listed a bunch of wants, unnecessary yet fun things like new Ugg boots, expensive running tights and back massage certificates.
Listing what I want for Christmas makes me feel selfish and spoiled — things I’ve worked hard throughout my twenties not to be. I’m blessed to have a supportive and stable family, but I try not to take advantage of that.
Throughout the year, I pay all my own expenses and try to do little things, like send real thank-you letters, keep in good touch with close friends, share candy and goodies at the office and call my grandparents occasionally, that show my appreciation for all the fantastic advantages and privileges in my life. In my heart, I’m thankful.
On Thursday when we go around the table and list things we’re grateful for, I’ll have plenty to say — my mostly enjoyable, challenging and important job, my reasonable and understanding boss, my simple ability to move all of my body parts and function fully, without disability, my enjoyment of physical activity and healthy eating, the friends I know will always be in my life, my faith, my fiancee and plenty more. I have so many things to be thankful for, but I know I don’t show it enough.
And then Christmas rolls around. And there are so many celebrations. Believe me, I’m not complaining. Just listing all the occasions for which people want to buy me gifts, even if I don’t need them, makes me see the blessing and the curse of it all.
There’s the real Christmas day, on which my family still has managed to celebrate with gifts in the morning despite three twenty-somethings working new-kid schedules that often include holidays. Then there’s Christmas afternoon, when my fiancee’s family gathers for a gift extravaganza that hasn’t scaled itself back to a Secret Santa or a cards-only occasion. Before the big day, my mom’s side of the family gathers over the weekend for a variation on the Secret Santa theme, and it’s a grand fiesta of family and festive foods. Before even that, it’s my fiancee’s family at it again, gathering for the German tradition of St. Nicholas Day.
It’s a first-world problem, for sure, but the spectacular celebrations of Christmas always make me feel materialistic along with blessed and loved. I’ll make some donations, but somewhere inside I’ll still feel selfish. I’ll give plenty of gifts to others, and I’ll put as much time and thought into them as I can. But I’ll still feel some guilt about the nice things I’ll gladly receive regardless of need.
Christmas isn’t supposed to be a time for materialism. So it’s time to change the focus. When my Christmas list comes due, I’ll find a way to complete the assignment — I am a rule follower, after all. But maybe, gradually, I’ll also find a way to work less material goods into the picture, leaving more room for what the season truly is all about: love, family, support, charity and a fresh start. Wishing you all that and more this holiday season.
Speak soon. Stay lucky.
I wish people weren’t so hypocritical. And I wish it most when it comes to our families.
There are times that bring families together. Births, birthdays, religious ceremonies, coming-of-age occasions, graduations, weddings, retirements, deaths. Aside from the obvious downer at the end, it’s hard to choose a favorite. Then there are things that tear families apart: insults, grudges, slights, distance, time, selfishness, laziness. I don’t know which is worst.
But families remain central to our lives, even as we progress through our twenties. Even as more time passes from the days when we lived with all of our immediate family, those relatives are a rock and steadying factor. Even as time progresses and some of us start our own families or come closer to doing so, those who raised us remain central.
Yet we let our families slip down our priorities list all too often, taking for granted that they’ll always be there for us. I’m guilty, that’s for sure. In fact, my family’s dependable presence and unconditional love are things I take comfort in assuming will be there forever, even when I’m not showing the most kindness, caring or consideration, even when I’m being selfish and putting my own thoughts, needs, wants and interests before those of the people who matter to me the most. Even when my selfishness takes so much precedence that I lose sight of the priorities I place on people, loyalty and dependability. Family is still there.
And when is this sad selfishness most apparent but at the time of a loved one’s death. Inevitably, there will be a lot of family time around a death, and this can be good and bad. Good because family can offer comfort that only those who truly understand you can provide. Bad because family time around a stressful and sad occasion can lead to old tensions flaring and new battle lines being drawn.
Also inevitable are the realizations. They’ll be different for each of us. Often they involve time. We’ll realize we should have spent more time with our families — the ones we were born into and the ones we choose. That’s what old people always say on those work/life balance surveys, anyway: they regret working so much and not spending enough time with their families. But why do we have to let this become a regret before we try to do something about it?
Time, I guess. It’s such a limiting factor that we blame it for our inability to balance our lives and put into order the things that are or aren’t important. Time is why we don’t see our families enough, but time isn’t the culprit. We are.
So if we value our families, let’s start showing it. If we love spending time with our families, let’s start doing it. Don’t wait for the next joyous occasion or tragic one. Don’t wait even for the next weekend. Keep the people who matter in your life central to it and do it now. Because you never know when it’ll be too late.