Monday, December 25, 2006

Welcoming the Unwelcome
I am in Florida spending the holidays with my spry 84-year-old mother and her equally spry 88-year-old second husband, who have been together for 10 years, having fallen in love in their seventies. Though life is slow and we don't wander too far from home anymore, I see how their active, positive minds are keeping them young and relatively healthy. They take their vitamins, don't eat much meat, and stick to small portions of fresh foods. Yet all is not idyllic in their world; Christmas Eve day, his elder son decided to come visit, at the last minute, inviting himself to dinner, to stay overnight, and sit in on present-opening Christmas Day — though we had no gifts for him. He also brought with him his ill-trained Great Dane. My mother despises these visits, as she feels she must cook, make up a fresh bed, and cater to his needs while he has never once brought a thank-you gift, offered to help, or taken them out to dinner as a gesture of gratitude. In addition, his dog gets up on all the furniture, puts its face close to your plate at the dinner table, and eats her best Christmas ornaments, all without a word of discipline from the son. She was seething underneath the surface, and I was being drawn into it with her.

The son is sweet, but out of touch with the social graces, which comes off as basically arrogant. I decided that this is Christmas, after all, and I would simply do what I could to be kind to him, his no-boundaries dog, and my mother, who was working herself into a tither. The effect wasn't too perceptible on the outside, but I could feel the subtle differences in the tension in my heart and chest as I oscillated subtly back and forth from judgmentalism and irritation (merger with my mother) to a more neutral softness as I allowed the situation to be just what it was. I don't know if my energy touched any of the others in a meaningful way, but I was educated about the tiny shifts we can all make in our emotional postures, about the benefit of living free of irritation.
Photo by Penney Peirce

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