At last Sunday’s Mass, Father Bryan began his homily sharing some family drama between his younger brother and mom, nothing catastrophic, more like what we all experience with certain family members through the course of our lives. Probably the key ingredient to the prickly relationship is that Father’s family members are very much alike in personality. That, for sure, is something many of us have in common. It’s probably like having 2 pieces to a jigsaw puzzle that fit together in every way, save one. That difference will forever keep them at odds. But unlike a board game, familial relations can be sorted through, and the rough edges made smoother, if not perfect.
As Father pointed out, not even the Holy Family was perfect. An angel appeared to St. Joseph three times, dictating what he and his family should do. First, he was going to marry the Virgin Mary who would conceive a child of God. Second, he and Mary must leave their homes, families, and all that was familiar, to move to Egypt. And then finally, they were to return home to Nazareth where they would settle into daily living. Surely as human beings, father, mother, and son must have had their moments of frustration, which spilled over onto one another. How they weathered stormy times together, while maintaining love and respect for one another, is what’s important, and a valuable lesson for all of us.
After Mass, my daughter and I approached Father Bryan to express appreciation for his homily. In reply, he looked at me exclaiming that our family probably didn’t experience any of the normal angst he mentioned about most families, including his. Before I could respond, someone offered him words of thanksgiving. If we’d not been interrupted, I would’ve told Father that no family is exempt from “baggage.” But like the Holy Family, we forgive, and move forward with compassion for one another, as well as ourselves.
The holidays seem to bring added pressures to families, insisting everyone “get along,” whether that means squelching decades old animosities, jealousies and rivalries, or feigning affection for those we barely know. Because I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, and my feelings lie near the surface, I don’t squelch or feign very well. I can overlook and be fine. My mother use to want me to be other than who I was. Growing up I had no choice, but as an adult I can only be honest.
I don’t think we have to lie to get along, I believe we can be who we are and hope that others accept us for that, and not what they would like us to be. I don’t like to layer my expectations upon someonelse, nor do I want anyones’ expectations to rest upon me. Among the many things I took away from Dr. Amen’s book, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,” is that I want to live my best life. In order to do so I must dwell on the positive, not the negative. Of course it’s an ongoing effort not to get caught up in the daily grind of living, as witnessed on the news reports: wars, foreclosures, unemployment, natural disasters, a bad economy. While it may be impossible to control the macrocosm, I can manage the microcosm. And so I try to make my environment as positive and hopeful as I can.
Family are who they are. While liking them may be difficult at times, accepting them is not open for deliberation, in my opinion. Being with them, however, is another matter, again my opinion. No matter family or friends, people should respect one another in their dealings. “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you,” is still a great way to live. One’s perspective may differ from another person’s, but respect for all viewpoints should be a given. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. Rather than “beating ourselves up,” tying to force relationships to fit like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, it might behoove some, like me, to do what I can do, and be contented with that much. Progress can be made bit by bit, it need not occur in one fell swoop. It can, but it needn’t.
I’ll take small moments of happiness as often as they occur, rather than pine and stress at never attaining the perfect family portrait. All those in our families are striving to live their best lives, given their particular circumstances. I love them all, and will always wish them life’s best, whether I’m physically in their lives or not. And I’m certain they wish the same for me and mine.