Virtues of the holidays are often forgotten
The Kansas City Star
It’s that time of year again: Americans are at varying stages of holiday celebration saturation acceptance, following the relative hedonism of yet another Thanksgiving and Black Friday marathon.
Even non-observers find inadvertent subjection to the frenzy almost impossible to avoid. Trust me.
Many of us have undergone tests of will/strength/sanity otherwise known as family gatherings, colossal culinary endeavors and seasonal travel, and many of us are bracing for another round or three. Many of us are tired.
How we adore the symbolism and the sentiment but resent the established and expected process.
The stink of stress and coercion is pervasive, threatening to overpower the most pungent home-baked cookies and freshly cut pine. It’s easy for even enthusiastic merrymakers to grow jaded by year’s end.
Perhaps the shadow of misery and unattainable perfection is a galvanizing necessity, a natural compensation or antidote for the happy gluttony that threatens to dissolve all remaining shreds of compassion and piety.
What baffles me most about these wintertime rituals is the dichotomy between revelry and reverence, the indulgence in bacchanalian behavior at a time characterized by its focus on service, humility and giving.
We undermine our capacity to actually feel the joy promised us if we just capitulate and participate without attempting to cultivate or revive a sense of gratitude.
This rather hokey rule-of-thumb happens to hold true year-round, but it bears repeating because it’s easy to forget that our perspective is the framework of our experience.
Earlier this fall, friends and family came from near and far to celebrate my grandmother Sally on her 90th birthday. Each person had distinct memories characterizing their understanding of her and her effect on their lives, and it struck me that the perceptions that stick with us become the stories we tell ourselves and others, shaping life’s narrative.
If we aren’t paying attention, if we don’t stay present, we cease to play an active role in the cultivation of our story and we fail to be cognizant of the nuanced realities of others.
We miss real opportunities to improve our lives and those of others through simple awareness and appreciation.
The sad truth is that there are too many among us who are struggling and suffering, and I don’t just mean the most disadvantaged. I mean your recently divorced friend who would prefer a hug to prodding questions. I mean your reproductively challenged cousin who would love to go shopping with you but just might cry if you take her into another toy store.
Shifting our holiday expectations away from meeting arbitrary definitions of perfection enables us to be kinder. Acceptance can help us regain a little of that elusive wonder that captivates the young and hopeful this time of year — that openness to possibility that gives us purpose.
We get to choose between passivity and action, pride and humility, negativity and gratitude. Circumstance is irrelevant.
I choose to be grateful for the amazing gifts of love, support, forgiveness and acceptance I received during a recent period of profound loss and my subsequent steps forward. I choose to appreciate what I have and have had, and you can, too.
Life is full of lessons and surprises. Strive to be thankful for them all.
Brooke Tourtellot of Kansas City works as a freelance writer and consultant. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108.