Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It Is What It Is

St. Eugene de Mazenod
Patron Saint of Dysfunctional Families
mixed media shrine

Last year I told my husband that if we were rich we could leave the country during the holiday season and escape to some place where they've never heard of Christmas. Christmas has been kicking my ass for years. About ten years ago I decided that enough was enough, and every year since then I have been letting go more and more of all of the deadline induced anxiety and guilt induced panic. I've been examining all of the weird capitalist driven hype surrounding the (not even his actual) birthday of Jesus Christ, the most socialist, egalitarian, non-materialistic holy person to ever walk the earth. I've deconstructed the crazy messages foisted on us by our unrelenting capitalist economy, like that a sweater bought at the Gap for Christmas is somehow much better than that same sweater all of the other 364 days of the year, and that the actual Spirit, the Real Meaning of Christmas can in fact be purchased, wrapped, and imparted to the recipient in the form of that sweater from the Gap! They will actually experience a warm, happy glow and hear tinkling bells, and they will love you for it. Yeah, I've been actively deprogramming myself, and I've been trying to figure out how to celebrate Christmas in a way that is meaningful to me. I've been very frank with myself about being realistic with my time and resources. And that is all great. Year by year I've been letting go more and more. But there is something I struggle with every year, and that is not how I do Christmas, it is with whom I do Christmas. Which is what this blog is really about.

detail of St. Eugene de Mazenod shrine

I suspect that the average person feels really, really bad at Christmas. Because the perception is that everyone else's family is having a Christmas card picture perfect jolly old heart warming time of it from November until January. Everyone except us, that is, with our alcoholics, weirdo recluses, co-dependents, martyrs, people prone to angry outbursts, the dead who we miss terribly, and those who choose to be estranged. Somehow it seems so important that on this one day everybody be who they are not, and this big Christmas expectation can condense and intensify our feelings of sadness, loss and disappointment about what is lacking in our family relationships into crisis proportions. I also suspect that the reason for all of the crazy doing, spending, and rushing around is that it serves as a huge distraction from how bad we feel. Because, let me tell you, the less crazy Christmas doing I do, the more painful feelings I have to get through about my family relationships.

"Old Great-Grandad Booze"
detail of St. Eugene de Mazenod shrine

That being said, a step back and a look at the big picture is in order. I believe that each person was purposely put upon the earth for one, or some, or all of these reasons: to teach, to learn, and to witness. I believe that I could not possibly be the person I am without my family: all that is good, all that is bad, and everything else has made me grow. I am discovering that when I stay rooted in what is I am not derailed by sadness over what is not. It has been a hard lesson to learn—forty years in the making—that I have been spending the holidays with the idea of who I want my family to be as opposed to who they are. I love them and accept them in sickness and in health, in absence and in presence, in grumpiness and in shame inducing nagging all of the other 364 days of the year in varying degrees of compassion (on a 0-10 scale). Yet on Christmas I expect some facsimile family. They don't exist. And they always disappoint me. Not like my real family, from whom I know exactly what to expect and who are consistently themselves, December 25th or no. And so I must own, that they were not screwing up my Christmases, I was. Thank God I am finally getting a handle on why Christmas kicks my ass. And so my plan this year for serenity, sanity, and hopefully enjoyment is as follows:

1. I will practice this wisdom from the Dalai Lama: " I am open to the guidance of synchronicity, and do not let expectations hinder my path."

2. I will remember these wise words from St. Milarepa, himself the child of a dysfunctional family: "I have understood this body of mine to be the product of ignorance, composed of flesh and blood and lit up by the perceptive power of consciousness. To those fortunate ones who long for emancipation it may be the great vessel by which they may procure Freedom. But to the unfortunates who only sin, it may be the guide to lower and miserable states of existence. This our life is the boundary mark whence one may take an upward or downward path. Our present time is a most precious time, wherein each of us must decide, in one way or other, for lasting good or lasting ill." (emphasis mine)

3. I will pray. A lot. Especially to St. Eugene de Mazenod, the patron saint of dysfunctional families. I will ask him to look over us and to help me detach with love.

4. I will talk my husband's ear off, and the ears of my other trusted friends, so that I can stay centered, see the big picture, and not be ruled by my feelings.

St. Milarepa
mixed media shrine

I think I can reasonably expect to survive.


  1. jen, this is one hell of a great post. i just LOVE every nook and cranny of it. THANK YOU...

    p.s. i think of you everyday as i pass St. Anthony on the wall...:)

  2. yes. yes. yes. all that. and may a offer a small remedy? have some freakin' fun, damn it. even when you don't feel like it. it's like medicine. dance crazy in the living room with your gorgeous daughter and beautuful husband. move your body to nurture your joy. It really helps get the 'boogies' out. i love you. pru

  3. Hi Roberta! Thank you! It gives me great pleasure to know that St. Anthony has a very special job he is doing for you.

  4. Hi Pru- oh yes- FUN! What great advice! I love you too! Pru