Category: Our families (page 1 of 3)

Breaking bread without breaking into a fight.

I love the movie “Home For The Holidays” with Holly Hunter and Robert Downey Jr.  I think it captures the sweetness and dysfunction that can go hand-in-hand when you mix grown siblings, carving knives and childhood memories that maybe never were.  I really enjoy how in 10 minutes, this movie family can experience everything from empathy to sadness to raucous laughter to misery.   It’s a bumpy weekend, but if you ride it all the way through, the movie ends with a universal truth that touches your heart.  (At least it does mine.)

Turkey day is coming, and with it, a cornucopia of relatives, friends and ex-spouses you might not have seen in at least a year. Making safe conversation about something besides the weather can be more than difficult; it can feel like work when it seems you have nothing in common. And while some prefer to find an easy chair and just nod or smile occasionally and feign a trance, most of us want to at least find a way to interact without going down the forbidden paths of religion, politics, the right way to mash potatoes, the real color of someone’s hair, or that disagreement between the states (sometimes referred to as the Civil War).

And this year…well, need i really say it?  Politics is front and center.  Emotions are raw and for good reason.  If you’re dreading rubbing shoulders with those on the other side of the ideological fence, you’re not alone.

It’s a tough assignment. But as boomers, we have a rich frame of reference to draw from—so it should be easier, right?

leaves

We have been to enough holiday meals to understand that sometimes the oven explodes, the dog jumps in the middle of the table and there’s a shouting match before the salad is served.

It gives us rich material. Which comes in handy, as do good listening skills, curiosity, and some natural wit—all part of the art of conversation. After all, these are people you are going to be around for several hours—eating, cleaning up, walking after dinner, watching football, whatever—wouldn’t it be nice to find a few good topics for discussion?  (Or more simply, we’re not the family in the Norman Rockwell painting, but we do care about each other…and arguing when you’re consuming this much sugar and carbs just isn’t a good idea.)

Apparently this conundrum is universal.  Books tells us how to  master the art of wit and conversation.  Magazine articles instruct us on how to be nice to one another.  But rather than let sociologists pull a chair up to the dinner table, I try to go within and keep it simple.  For example:

  • When things get weird, be ready with a few subjects that make for good conversation instead of disagreements.
  • Keep your jokes short, and nice.  Really.  Save the tacky stuff for another time.
  • Listen to others with an open mind.  If you hear something you really don’t agree with, consider whether you want to challenge it…or maybe wait until later when you can trap the person in the food pantry and make your point then?  Or maybe just have another helping of dressing.
  • Remember you love these people. (Maybe not the boyfriend with more chains than Marley’s ghost , but he’s not here because of you anyway.  And maybe he just needs a hug.)candles

I think if you go to any  large gathering with the attitude that it will be positive and interesting, it usually turns out that way.  But I do  confess this year is going to be a major challenge for many of us.  My feelings are very strong, and I’m very disappointed in recent events.  But I also know that some in attendance at my Thanksgiving table feel differently. Maybe ahead of time, we should ask the host to declare a moratorium on debate.

Thanksgiving is about being grateful for what we have, the people in our lives, and even just the miracle of waking  up every day.  It’s a celebration of everything, including our differences.  As passionate and strong as they may be.

Like any family, we have strong opinions about a lot of things, but for a day, we can put aside our differences and turn off the cell phone and “like” just being together.  Enjoy the pie.

And argue later.

(We’ll have lots of chances to do so.)

 

“Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes

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Happy Birthday Mom.

IMG_0828 - Version 2

Today my mother would have been 98, had she not passed away 15 years ago. She is instead an eternal angel who probably is quietly giggling as she watches from a distant cloud.

At least I like to think that.

Her life was not an easy one, with responsibilities hitting her hard and early amidst the Great Depression and WWII. She survived it all, raised a family, and got us through many difficult moves, losses of pets, first days of school, and more. She took great joy in that. But I wonder if she would have liked to have had an opportunity to explore her talents.

She probably would have enjoyed college. Maybe she wished she could have a “girls weekend” or vacationed in a spa.

Instead, she planned meals, cleaned the kitchen, signed book reports, and held down the fort while my father traveled for business. She was quiet around others, but quite the dry wit around us. I like to think I inherited her grit. So many times I wish I could sit down with her and talk about things.

So I do anyway.

I picture her listening, and maybe smiling at me. It feels so real.   Because I sincerely believe she is with me more often than not. But maybe occasionally she’s using her wings to explore a sunny beach.

Or hang gliding over the Rockies.

Or just enjoying watching us. She is just one of the many strong women who helped make it possible for us baby boomers to go further than she ever dreamed.

Thank you Mother. And happy birthday.  

 

“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.”

      Abraham Lincoln

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Feeling left behind?

20150125There’s a lot of great things about growing older.

But there’s some tough stuff as well, like losing more people every year. People in your family. A spouse. Friends. Co-workers and past acquaintances.

Whether it’s the finality of death or a phone call that tells you someone has a terminal disease.

That just can’t be.

 She’s not old enough.

 He was just about to retire.

 We went to school together.

 She’s younger than I am.

How old does that make me??

It’s natural to feel some fear when you get news like this. It’s also natural to take a hard look at yourself, and then feel guilty because it’s supposed to be about them, not you.

Yet it is about you…and me…and how strange it is to age on the outside and yet still feel 25, 35, 45 on the inside.

I had a 93-year old neighbor once who was legally blind but every bit as alive and involved as she had always been. Her smile was a welcome sight every day. Yet she confessed to me that it was getting harder and harder because she had outlived everyone…her friends, her post loves, her anchors. I didn’t get it totally then, but I’m starting to now.

It feels like we’re all in lifeboats bobbing up and down at sea, holding hands, getting through all the storms and high waves together. Then more and more of our fellow life travelers fall in the water, disappearing, and the chain is not as strong as it used to be. Hey now, hang on a minute.

We’re all supposed to get through this together. We’re supposed to make it to the other side together. Don’t leave me!

photo-1428263197823-ce6a8620d1e1It’s even hard when famous people die, if we’ve identified with them our whole lives and they’ve become a part of how we experience each day. A singer who helped us escape the rigors of teenage angst. A sports figure that inspired us to work out harder because he or she never gave up. An author whose words pulled us through a life crisis.

Now they are gone, and we are left to fend as best we can. It can make me feel more exposed and vulnerable at times. And yet, I’m guessing what’s really happening is we are left with the essence of who we are…and sometime’s that a good thing. To “meet” ourselves without any filters or escape hatches.

All the people we have known, loved, liked, respected, or even disliked help shape who we are…and now as boomers and beyond, who we have become. But they are just part of the picture.

Depending upon your belief, you may take solace in that you will remain connected with them for eternity, that this is not a final goodbye. (That’s my belief, and in a few cases, I’m ready to really make sure they understand what they meant to me!) Knowing that can help ease the pain, and underscore how tight some bonds can be.

Here’s some nice words from the late poet A.R. Ammons:

 

In View of the Fact

 The people of my time are passing away: my wife is baking for a funeral, a 60-year-old who

 died suddenly, when the phone rings, and it’s Ruth we care so much about in intensive care:

 

it was once weddings that came so thick and fast, and then, first babies, such a hullabaloo:

 now, it’s this that and the other and somebody else gone or on the brink: well, we never

 

thought we would live forever (although we did) and now it looks like we won’t: some of us

 are losing a leg to diabetes, some don’t know what they went downstairs for, some know that

 

a hired watchful person is around, some like to touch the cane tip into something steady,

 so nice: we have already lost so many, brushed the loss of ourselves ourselves: our

 

address books for so long a slow scramble now are palimpsests, scribbles and scratches: our

 index cards for Christmases, birthdays, Halloweens drop clean away into sympathies:

 

at the same time we are getting used to so many leaving, we are hanging on with a grip

 to the ones left: we are not giving up on the congestive heart failure or brain tumors, on

 

the nice old men left in empty houses or on the widows who decide to travel a lot: we

 think the sun may shine someday when we’ll drink wine together and think of what used to

 

be: until we die we will remember every single thing, recall every word, love every

 loss: then we will, as we must, leave it to others to love, love that can grow brighter

 

and deeper till the very end, gaining strength and getting more precious all the way. . . .

 

heart-shaped-fluffy-cloud Life is precious. Grab it with all the might you have and celebrate your spirit, your soul, and your passion for living. Do it for yourself, and those who have moved on to a higher being. Rock that wrinkle!!!

 

“Being happy never goes out of style.”

     Lilly Pulitzer

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Pearl Harbor and Us.

Today is December 7, 2015. Thinking back to December 7, 1941.

From what I have been told, it started out as a beautiful day in Pearl Harbor.

IMG_0192But at 7:55 a.m. Hawaiian time, that quickly changed.

And before it was all over, 2,403 people lost their lives and 1,200 were wounded.  With Pearl Harbor, America was thrown into WWII.

Terrifying. Stunning. Devastating. Rallying.   As a baby boomer, I was not alive then, but my (now late) parents were. I can only imagine the feelings of both vulnerability and patriotism this event evoked in people who previously assumed their world would remain safe.

Not unlike what the 2011 attacks on the World Trade Tours did—reawakened a global resolve to restore some level of peace and order to a turbulent world.

Debates about all the issues will go on forever. But for just a moment, let’s stop and think about what war does to us. Death is not the only result. Fear. Loss of trust. Disorientation about where we fit in the world. Worry over younger members of our family who might be thrown right into its core.   Disruption of our belief system. Rifts with relatives who take the opposite side in political views.  Veterans who can’t receive adequate medical care and live in poverty.

Hate. Sadness. Sorrow.

Why bring this up during the holiday season?

Because not only is the attack on Pearl Harbor a day in history we must remember, it is also a day to honor all the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day. Servicemen and women. Police officers and firefighters. Doctors Without Borders. Ambassadors and missionaries. Foreign correspondents who report from the fighting.   Emergency responders who pull people from flooded cars and rescue beloved pets from rooftops in natural disasters.

IMG_0206In a world filled with so much hate, there is still so much love. There will always be those who hate. But also, there will always be those who are willing to reach out, to accept, to listen, and most importantly, to love.

In 1941, we were mostly united in our fight against those who wished us harm. Today it’s a tougher call, with many innocent souls targeted for their religion, their country of origin, or their desperate desire to escape horrible living conditions.

No easy answers. Except a hope that peace on earth will come someday, for all peoples.   What a gift that would be.

         “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”

                    Seneca

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