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?
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.)
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