Holidays with my family are sort of like episodes of “I Survived”, but with less uplifting endings. You were thrown into a gully after being assaulted by a motorcycle gang? A wild boar gored you and a bear ate three of your fingers before you managed to crawl and claw your way back to safety? You’re not bitter, though, you became a better person for it and those finger prosthetics are amazing? That’s fantastic. No one comes out of my family gatherings feeling like a better person.
I promise it isn’t for lack of trying. I have a whole ritual of cooking and cleaning, trying to slow the pace of the train so perhaps this time it will not derail. Scrubbing wood floors on hands and knees. Polishing every piece of glass until it sparkles. My niece walks in and says “Oh. Bing!” at the shininess.
And the cooking which always calms me. Chopping, slicing, rolling, kneading. Clouds of flour sifting through the air. Brown sugar caramelizing, spices bubbling, bubbling.
I know the outcome will leave me alternately angry and empty inside, yet I persevere. Try to cling to the parts that fulfill me.
There was a bright spot today, which is what I really want to talk about. Early this morning I saw a Facebook post from my friend Rachael. She had invited anyone near her who might be lonely or in need of a meal to stop by. Though she wasn’t cooking traditional Thanksgiving food, she was offering sustenance and companionship. Well, and Scrabble. Which, as some of you know, I consider the best game ever. So there are multiple reasons why Rachael is awesome.
I found this simple act so selfless and touching. To open up your home and your heart, without knowing who might accept.
During the holiday season there seems to be an awful lot of lip service given to charity. I see mommy bloggers frantically enumerating the acts of giving they are pressing their children into. We’re donating all of his old toys! (just in time to buy him new ones.) We’re not even buying presents this year! We will eat only water and crackers, we’re replacing the Christmas tree with a picture of Jesus. A Yuletide version of the who-can-out-crunchy each other war. I hate to be the one to break it to you, mamas, but forcing your kids to eschew earthly delights still won’t make them perfect. In fact, it will probably cause them to go on a Twinkie and sex fueled rampage the second they get away from you.
For a brief window of time, people DO give. They donate canned goods, coats, choose a star from the angel tree, mail out shoeboxes, buy flocks of chickens for far-flung villages. Maybe it’s to help quell their own guilt at a season of such excess. Perhaps it truly comes from a desire to help others. Maybe a little of both. The problem is that it generally lasts right up until the holiday credit card bills start rolling in, the generosity lost in the rising tide of panic and belt-tightening.
Back to this morning, soon after I read Rachael’s post I had a moment of serendipity. I was reading while waiting for company to arrive. The book is about the life of a woman and her husband who work as raptor rehabilitators. In it, she mentions a lecture on the psychology of Buddhist thought. The lecturer tells the story of a man who goes to his teacher and asks how to reach enlightenment. The teacher replies: “Love people and feed them.” The man isn’t satisfied and continues to question his teacher. Surely there must be more. But the teacher firmly repeats his answer until the man understands.
It struck me deeply. This is so precisely what Rachael was doing.
And I realize this is what many feel compelled to do on this day, opening their homes to family they may not quite like, working in soup kitchens or at community dinners, delivering baskets of food to those who can’t get out. But what if we all, collectively, decided to treat each other this way all of the time?
If I have food, I will share it with you. If I can feed your soul with my presence in your life, with a sympathetic ear and a little of my time, I will show you love. Without any judgement or expectation.
It’s a simple choice. And yet profound because it gives you nothing to hide behind. It becomes impossible to say that you have nothing to give and nothing to share. If you believe in the ability of humans to transcend the drudgery and filth of a mundane life, this is how it begins. It doesn’t matter which god you believe in, or none at all. We are all connected, often in ways we will never sense or see. We are all sacred, we are all holy.
Honor that by being a good egg. Love people, and feed them.