The holidays have really never been my thing, over the years. Most of my adult memories of them are associated with either steeling myself to going home and battling it out with my parents, or figuring out a way not to go home, and feeling guilty about it. I remember one year, an impending snowstorm made the decision for me, and genuinely crying on the phone to my parents about having to spend Christmas alone, but secretly, inside and under the fountain of tears, I was relieved. My return visits home made me the centerpiece of attention, something I normally enjoy, I’ll admit, but this was never in a charmed or charming way.
I shan’t relive those visits here, of course, moments from over the years still rise up and remind me of their sting. It’s taken a long, long time to feel at peace with my history, the family traditions that so many of us have. Then, my father’s death became a new albatross this time of year, in part because it echoed his own history around the holidays: his mother’s own death before Christmas turned him into a very depressed, withdrawn person as that holiday approached. The family compromise was to decorate every-other year, as he hated everything about the holiday, arguing the ritual was idiotic, given our lack of religious faith. But really, inside, he was just trying to keep afloat in the Pit. The Pit of sadness and despair, where our grief and our pain pools and resides, ebbing and flowing, sometimes threatening to drown us completely. In the years following his death, I barely recall those gatherings myself, apart from the ones we hosted. In some ways, I replicated his own behavior; survival in the grips of absolute despair.
I’m not sure why this year feels different. Not quite as blue, not quite as shiny, either, just another day with fewer stores open, no mail. A day spent with a good friend watching Harry Potter on the big screen, in a theater not nearly as crowded as Christmas is, where I have sought company among my Jewish friends in the past. Traditions are hard to shake, especially the feeling that you are missing out somehow, that a piece of you is off-kilter, adrift, not in sync as Facebook status after Facebook status rolls by with reports of over-indulgence, new recipes, scrubbed shiny faces of children. Odd, how social media can unite and isolate all at the same time. But that history is not my history, your recipe for stuffing is far different than my own.
They say when you leave home, that you can never go home again. My father said those words to me after they moved me into the dorms to begin my freshman year of college. Stung, I felt like I had been set adrift somehow, the proverbial thump of landing after being kicked out of the nest. He then explained that while it was always my home, it would never be the same. My struggle to define myself, to grow up, to be independent, would all prevent my childhood home from feeling the same to me, and that I would have to find and establish a new home for myself. At that time, all of 17 years old, I thought I understood. But I can tell you now, from the wisdom of 25 more years, that I had no idea what home was or needed to be at that point in my life.
Tonight, I will enjoy some pasta with mushrooms and asparagus. Asparagus my husband bought me because he knows how much I love it. Asparagus he bought when he went to the grocery store for me, taking the list I’d written for myself, taking one thing off my list in a week that’s been so busy for being so short. In so many ways, he is my refuge, my comfort and strength. But I finally see that my home is within me. It is not defined by a day or a meal. And for this wisdom and perspective, I’m thankful, indeed.