November 23, 2010

Not Home for the Holidays (MDIV 555)

Journal for November 23, 2010

I’ve never missed Christmas. I missed Thanksgiving once. I saw my whole family together the day before, but on Thanksgiving itself, I hopped on a plane to Boston to attend Shambhala Training Levels IV and V at KarmĂȘ Chöling. But I’ve never missed Christmas with my family, even though I haven’t been a Christian for longer than I was.

Our family traditions are simple. On holidays, we get together for a big dinner either at my folk’s house or Granny’s house. We sit, we eat, we visit. Later, there will be football and usually we’ll go out to a movie in the afternoon. Then we all come back and take a nap. The biggest change in the last few years has been the addition of April, my sister-in-law. Sometimes she and Brandon don’t stay as long because her family is also getting together, but they always still manage to come over.

Sometimes Aunts and Uncles and cousins will come to spend the holiday with Granny or Granny will go out to spend the holiday with them, but my family usually stays home. Traveling in winter in the Midwest is always an iffy proposition and likely to change the day of. Granny can leave days in advance, but those of us who must work don’t always make it out ahead of the snow. Last year, we had intended to go out to my mother’s sister’s ranch in central Nebraska for Christmas, but we ended up snowed in for five days in Omaha.

I am very lucky in my family. We all get along. We comfortable, like old shoes. Sure, we disagree and we argue. But we don’t yell or shout (too often) or slam doors. Mostly we just hang out. Visiting is a family sport. When other families get together, they have activities, card games, charades, Pictionary. We just sit around and visit, often for hours. People break off into groups. Someone will go take a nap or read a book. The sports fans will watch the game. The moms will sit around and talk about Melinda’s new baby. Eventually, I’ll go out for a walk by myself, even in knee-high snow, just because I like to be outdoors every day.

We almost always go to a movie on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, whatever the big new blockbuster is that week. We might stop for ice cream on the way home. No one leaves the house on Black Friday. None of us like crowds or shopping that much. On Christmas, we’ll come home and watch more movies, because someone always got a DVD (or two or three) in their stocking. Christmas morning, I always handed out the presents, probably because I was the youngest and least patient. We wait until everyone has a present in their hands and then all unwrap and ooh and aah. Mom takes pictures and Dad makes goofy faces.

I’ll miss all that this year and I’m not sure how that will affect me. On Thanksgiving, I’m going to Shakya’s house for a dinner Mike has organized with about fifteen other family-less students. It sounds like a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to it. I’m not sure how Christmas will go. Like the rest of my family, I’m pretty pragmatic, so no wailing and weeping. But still…

One of the great teachings of Buddhism is that we will eventually lose everyone and everything that we love. The three marks of existence are suffering (or nirvana if you read Thay), impermanence, and non-self. It sounds like a very dreary teaching, but it can also be incredibly empowering. It points right at the Second Noble Truth, which in turn brings up the Third Noble Truth. Suffering is caused by desire and suffering can end.

For the most part, I don’t think it’s fundamentally a problem that I want to be with my family on Christmas. I think that’s healthy and good. It’s up to me to decide if that desire is going to make me miserable because I didn’t get what I want, or make me happy because it reminds me of all the love we share.

I don’t know if I’ll quite manage the later, but we’ll see.

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