Do you have a relative or dear friend who used to be a regular part of your holiday season gatherings? You know, the one you couldn’t wait to see, one you always included, to join for a joyful time together? But then, a disagreement possibly drove a wedge between you. There’s memories of good times before but it’s not been the same between you. How important was the fight? How important is it to remember the pain and keep people apart who used to enjoy good times together? Is there still a hole in your heart?
Undoubtedly, holiday stress can find us at our worst, if our to-do lists are too long. Children have it figured out, because they’re fast to forgive when there’s a disagreement. Adults take much longer to let go hard feelings. If resentment lingers, it usually keeps us from those we love at the holidays, and both ‘sides’ lose. This is not always the case, but it happens often.
Life should not be about remembering who hurt us and how they caused us grief or pain. Holidays are the perfect time for renewal with family and friends, or at least letting go the grief and anger of being wronged. Whatever the source of the disagreement, set yourself free. Even if you don’t reconnect with that person, disconnect from the anger and the pain. Maybe reach out to someone from the past and invite them back into your world again. In our hearts, there’s always room for reconciliation—hope for the holidays. Giving is receiving.
It’s not easy to enjoy the holidays where there’s a great big hole in your heart that stares right at you. Whether there is an empty chair at the dinner table, or the absence of a former beloved relative who “always came to be with you at the holidays,” whether or not we realize it, it’s a loss. A loss we grieve, in fact. I remember how a friend was telling me a story of how two elderly widowed sisters lived in the same city for 30 years together and for the past 10 years had never seen one other. There’d been a fight, over what no one could remember.
The other family relatives in the same city had a dilemma, though. They knew they couldn’t ask one sister without asking the other, and the inevitable question would be: “Well, is ‘she’ coming?” speaking of the other sister. The answer was, “I’ve invited you both and hope you will both come.” Each year for five years the outcome was the same—neither sister came. And then one day, one of the sisters died. Now there were two holes in the surviving sister’s heart, one because of the loss of a longtime loving relationship, and the other because neither of them ever had the chance to say goodbye to one another, or even, “I’m sorry.”
Reconciliation is not always the answer. Sometimes one person simply has a toxic temperament and no one wants to be around them. Forcing you to bring them into a happy home doesn’t make it easy for everyone to have a good time. I remember hearing Bette Davis used to say, “Getting old isn’t for sissies.” I think she had a point. Being an adult isn’t easy.
If you’ve seen how little kids handle a disagreement when they’re on the playground, usually they’re separated by a teacher, both children either have to say “I’m sorry” or maybe they have to shake hands, and then both spend a little bit of time in the time-out corner. Later that same day, it’s not a surprise to see the same two little children, arms over shoulders, getting along well on the playground. Children are almost perfect in that they are ready to be unconditionally forgiving. We know for certain that animals are always understanding. No matter how long it’s been since they’ve seen you leave in the morning, when you return they are as excited to see you as if you’d been gone 100 days. Unconditional love.
Unconditional love. Unconditional trust. Unconditional hope for the holidays. I look at the faces I see every day of families and friends in pain, grieving the loss of someone they love. Each face is different, each spirit is unique. Mostly what I see is unconditional love. The expression of love that people have when someone dies is so pure, so loving, and so free to flow. Why do we always reserve those accolades for after someone is gone? Why is it we are too shy to say what we feel when we reflect on the blessings of our days together with friends and families?
Most people are a little reluctant to walk up to a friend and say, “I love you. You’re a terrific friend and I admire you so much.” Unfiltered expressions of love sometimes make others a little uncomfortable, especially when they don’t always say, “I love you” to all the people in their world. It depends on how they grew up. One of my friends never fails to tell his mom “I love you” at the end of every conversation and not have one iota of embarrassment about it. He’s built like a football player too, so there’s no point in thinking about teasing him. And yet, it’s so unique and refreshing to hear.
What we have at this holiday season is a clean slate, a blank page, and hope. Lots and lots of hope. What would be different in our lives if we were to invite a non-favorite relative back to our homes just this one time, for a Christmas Eve or a Christmas Day meal? Or, maybe between Christmas and New Year’s say to them, “Please come by and have dessert with us; we’ve missed you!” You may hear “No, but thanks” or you could actually hear, ‘Thanks, I’d love to!” And in just two minutes a great friendship could be renewed by one person stepping forth with courage, prepared to hear “No,” but delighted to hear “Yes.”
It’s not always about us and our needs that we must focus. Some people need us in their lives more than we realize. We may have 50 friends and family members to gather with each year, but when not every member of the family is present, someone is sitting on the outside looking in. Estrangements often occur at holiday times when someone is grieving a loss of another member and you say things that are unthinking and you really don’t mean them. Both “sides” lose in that argument. It can take many wasted, precious years before resolving old grudges. Do we really all have any guarantees on someone outliving the grudge? I believe the answer is ‘no’.
Opening your heart and sharing your table and your time with those who once were an important part of your family life, whether it’s three years ago, or thirty years ago, could be a step in the right direction. Perhaps take time to reflect if it’s something you want to do, but it’s best not to act out of guilt. That’s never a good reason. When you reach out for the hand of another, though, it may be the single gesture that someone else has been hoping for, whether three years, or thirty years. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, so let’s live for today.
At the very least, as we approach this holiday weekend, let every statement we make to one another and about one another be made with love, with joy, and with hope. For those who might think there is no one in the world who remembers them, or misses them, let’s send a card, make a call, extend a hand, or embrace that person with a big Texas-sized hug and feel the joy of the season we are in.
Share the joy of the season with those who make your world go around; tell someone you love them, today, and if you can reconcile with someone who used to be an integral part of your life, that’s possibly going to be the best gift you could receive or give this year. Christmas Eve and Hanukkah both occur on December 24th this year. May the spirit of love, faith, and joy be yours as we respectfully reflect on how very fortunate we all are to be living right here, in the Brazos Valley.
Cody D. Jones ‘02
Owner & Community Member