thanksgiving remembered

Thanksgiving Remembered

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I have found myself thinking of thanksgivings past. I have such cherished memories of Thanksgiving with my family, growing up in New Jersey.

Every year, my parents and my older sister and younger brother would go to my aunt and uncle’s house. For me, this was the place of childhood joy and provided a deep sense of stability and security. When I was at my aunt and uncle’s, I felt the happiest.

When we arrived, after much anticipation all week, the festivities would already be underway: football on the t.v., a fire crackling in the fireplace, the smell of delicious food cooking in the kitchen.

The house would be warm and welcoming. My father would relax as he watched the game with my uncle, drank beer and filled up on appetizers. My mother and aunt would chat away, allowing themselves the guilty pleasure of a holiday whiskey sour, while they prepared the meal.

My youngest cousin was like another sibling to me. So it was the four of us (my youngest cousin and my two siblings and I) who were the closest and mostly inseparable. Thanksgiving was about touch football in the backyard, until our fingers were frozen. As the sun set, we would go inside to play hide and seek upstairs until dinner was ready.

My three older cousins were more “mysterious”; way cool in my eyes, hippies listening to the newest albums from the Moody Blues, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, too busy with more important things than to play with the young kids. I loved them mostly from afar.

As the years unfolded and the age gap shortened between us, my relationships with my older cousins strengthened and became more real. To this day, this core group of siblings and cousins, are the ones who have known me from the beginning of my life and are the people who connect me to my roots and give me a profound sense of who I am.

After dinner, the adults would move the furniture out of the way in the living room and dance. My father’s Hungarian roots would shine once the music started. He was the master polka dancer and he would take turns whirling around the room with my mother and my aunt. I remember feeling the thrill of watching the adults let go and celebrate life.

As my father danced with gusto, I remember how proudly he celebrated his Hungarian heritage in those moments. I remember that in those moments I saw him in such a different light; the shame and sense of inadequacy he carried heavily in his life, and which was always so apparent, seemed to melt away. He relaxed into himself and let go of his struggles.

And in those moments, life was all I could hope for. I was surrounded by family…happy, secure.

But of course, things are always more complex than what appears on the surface. As a child, while I knew that there were problems and stress, I wasn’t as aware of the deep impact of the stressors and strains that my parents and aunt and uncle were dealing with.

I was aware that my mother was ill. I was aware that my father did not always deal with his anger in ways that felt safe and healthy. I was aware that as my mother got sicker, and my father struggled more to make ends meet for our family, the anger increased at home. I was aware that my uncle worried about how his construction company would get through the winter months, when jobs would be fewer and further between, and that each year the strenuous work took a bigger toll on his body. I was aware that my aunt was always the rock for everyone.

But I was not aware of how the adults actually coped deep down inside because of all of this. I wasn’t aware of the fear or anxiety or the conflict that these stressors triggered. I wasn’t aware of the strain on the marriages and the relationships between the in-laws as a result of these stressors.

And this mostly was because the adults in my life were very good at creating moments during which the stressors were not dominant. They didn’t ignore or deny them. But they could create spaces of being free from the stressors; spaces for joy, fun, gratitude, security, love and the feeling that, in the present moment, we had more than enough.

As I think about all of this as an adult, it reminds me that human beings, in spite of our pain or fear or hurt or anxiety have the capacity to carve out moments of beauty and peace and love. And I do not mean in ways that avoid or deny or even minimize the harder realities of life. But in ways that involve making intentional choices. Ways which choose to celebrate in the moment and to temporarily set aside the worries and concerns, the conflict and the uncertainty. Ways of choosing peace over fear, joy over sadness.

We are capable of making choices about how we approach or define any given situation; we can choose to be positive and active or negative and passive. We are capable of making choices about our expectations: we can choose to have unrealistic expectations and then feel disappointed, or we can choose to be realistic and then, be so delighted with our experience.

And as we get ready for the holiday season, we can choose to expect a “perfect” holiday to miraculously take away all of the heartache and feel terribly disappointed when this does not happen, or we can acknowledge that holidays are simply breaks from the challenges of life, and embrace the moments of reprieve they offer us.

The beauty of the upcoming holiday season can be this: even with all of our strains and stressors we can choose to temporarily leave the mundane routine of our lives and create traditions and memories which allow us to enter the sacred.

Even with family conflict, illness, and financial strain we can choose to focus on the ways in which each person is doing the very best they can. Even with the unpredictability and uncertainty of life, we can choose to be grateful for what we know to be right in front of us; and if we are lucky that means family and friends who are imperfect and messy and at times struggling profoundly, but who show up to create moments of celebration. And it is in our collective celebration, that we are offered respite from the storm.

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Jane Ryan

Jane Ryan, M.A., LMFT, is a Licensed Couples and Family Therapist with twenty years of clinical experience. She specializes in intimate relationships, sexual challenges, sacred sexuality, and helping clients embrace their true erotic nature. She supports women in discovering their most radiant, vibrant and powerful feminine essence.

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