There’s a running joke in our culture about Thanksgiving, that it’s that time of year when all the members of the extended family come together — and drive each other crazy.
It’s a great set-up for comedic vignettes and stand-up punch lines. And for sure, there’s truth to it, enough to make the joke work. But I think a deeper truth lies on the other side of the set-up.
Relationships with family may not always be easy. In some cases, they can be downright difficult. But they are as much a part of us as the air we breathe. In many ways, they are the air we breathe.
On anyone’s list of things to be grateful, that unique group of people known as family has to be on or near the top.
In my family there were three brothers: big brother Adrian, little brother Tim, and me, the baloney in the brother sandwich. I was famous (among the other family members, that is) for being the one least likely to remember birthdays, most apt to forget anniversaries and other special dates. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. My brain just didn’t run that way.
Thus it was a big surprise to everyone (me included) when, about twenty years ago, I decided that it was high time we organized a family reunion. Which we did.
By this time the three brothers had been scattered far and wide for years, two of us were married with children, and we’d never had all the parties together under the same roof at the same time since … well, since ever.
That summer, my two brothers and I, along with our families, including significant others and offspring, all converged on my parents’ home and spent a good twenty-four hours there. We cooked, dined, talked. When on a boat tour of a large lake nearby. Tipped a glass or two and chatted well into the wee hours. It was a wonderful time.
A month or so later, after all returning to our various homes around the country, we learned that my mom had cancer.
In less than a year she was gone.
The following summer that reunion had gained a whole lot more meaning to us all than we knew it did when it happened. I miss her terribly. But I am so grateful that we did it when we still could.
A teacher I knew once said we tend to keep two lists about our spouses, the long list and the short list. The long list is the one that tallies up everything wrong with the other person and everything we would change about them if we could. The short list, he said, is the one we take out at the funeral. His advice? Discard the long list altogether; it’s completely useless. Then take the short list — all those things about your significant other that you love and cherish — and build on it. Every day.
Good advice to apply to family in general.
A Thanksgiving thought:
Appreciate the people you have while you have them. Let the long list go. Then take that short list … and build on it.
(photo: the Manns — Carolyn, John, Adrian, Alfred — on tour to perform Bach in Leipzig, 1976)