autumn days

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Creating Peace on Thanksgiving

My husband, children, and I put a lot of time, energy, and love into hosting Thanksgiving each year.
Each year my family elaborates on hosting this day.  The guests bring the same scripts, while my little family shifts the framework.  This celebration changes form, as do we.

It amazes me how emotionally triggered I am by this one meal each year.  I have looked around enviously at friends with extended families.  I desired more for my children than the isolated family of four in which I was raised.  I had chosen to focus upon my own disconnect, disfunction, and disappointment.  It is so true, we bring into our lives that on which we focus.

Two years ago my little family spent days preparing the meal and setting.  We wrote personal appreciations on a little paper turkey for each guest.  Everyone sat at beautifully arranged place settings.  My partner set up a scavenger hunt for the children to find a lost turkey.  This kept families engaged for an hour after the meal before their departure.  My recollections of the evening are laughing children with fake mustaches and adults saying "thank you" and "That must have taken a long time to make these little turkeys."  It was very sweet, though in my greed I'd wanted more.

There was still lingering disappointment in my heart last November.  In knowing I am creator of my own reality, I chose to get to the bottom of these feelings.  There, where it always is, I found again how much I miss my estranged brother.  He chose to leave my life 14 years ago due to the painful childhood we shared.  When I realized once again how much I miss my only sibling, I chose to search for the silver lining.  I love silver lining.  Here is what I found.  My biological family hasn't been around much, so I've created a supportive, healthy community of loved ones I consider my additional family.  It's an awesome feeling to have so many wonderful people love my children, my partner, and me.  Ironically, they are with their own biological families to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Let it go, let it flow.  My dear friend Jasmine has been walking me through her own releasing of friends from their set roles.  When we step back from expectations and forward into joy, we watch the relationship shift, change, end, or grow.  Then there is freedom for others to enter our lives.  Sometimes my additional family seems to use a revolving door and only the most joyous and nourishing of relationships last.  If staying in relationship with someone is so difficult, perhaps we are trying to make them fit into a role they don't choose.

Family has been a theme for me for a long while.  I've been training as a shamanic practitioner for two years.  Within this practice, I have connected more deeply with my family lineage and living relatives.  I daily express great gratitude for this life I have been gifted by my ancestors all the way back to the beginning of humanity.

My shamanic friend who knew nothing of my childhood gifted me with a shamanic meditation.  Within the visualization, she guided me to see myself as a delicate, innocent flower, smashed under the black boot of my father in the name of tradition and control.  As this flower, I was smashed and held down for a long time.  Soon the violence ended and there was quiet, calm, and light.  I rose again, like the Phoenix, growing into a strong resilient blossom.  All around me were other blossoms, in trees, in grasses, in vases.  Each one of these flowers is a family member.  "See the flowers and know how much you are loved.  You are surrounded by family and they are there anytime you think of them."

This visualization last spring provided me with such comfort I was able to take a big step forward.  Shortly after this session, I attended my mother's mother's family reunion in Utah, where I met 40 new relatives and all my grandmother's siblings.  In late summer my daughter and I traveled to Missouri to meet my father's siblings, their children, and grandchildren.  Within the last year my biological family has gone from itty bitty to pretty big.  These relatives live at a distance, though our hearts are now changed and connected forever.

As with every year, last year at Thanksgiving season, I began anew to re-evaluate my definition of family.  I looked in the dictionary for a definition of family.  Down at the ninth definition I found what I'd been searching for.  "Family: those who share the same path, interests, goals."  I like it.  I choose to know that I am a part of one big human family.  My cats, friends, loved ones, and biological relatives are all family.

As per usual I invited my loved ones from all areas of my life to join us for the big day.  I put out an open invitation to all my classmates to join us if they chose.  It feels good to include them.  It feels good they have other gatherings to join.  It feels great to release any expectation of others participating on behalf of my side of the family.  One of my partner's cousins chooses to spend Thanksgiving with friends, as she has for the last 25 years.  Now I finally understand her choice.  When we choose what feels good for ourselves, taking others into consideration, we are causing a ripple effect of self-care and appreciation.  We are the only ones who truly know what brings us joy on Thanksgiving.  And it is our responsibility to create our own happiness.

It brings me great joy to spend this special day with my loved ones who choose to share it.  My partner's three relatives and their own little families joined us last year.  We spent one week preparing our home and one day preparing our meal.  We decorated a large chalk board, white board, and a large painted poster to detail our appreciations for family, friends, food, and the abundance in our lives.  The table was immaculately set with laminated animal calendar pages (from decluttering teaching supplies), small canning jars with candles, personalized art, and name cards for each guest.  In all the preparations, we expressed our deep appreciations for our loved ones, near and far, and for the many blessings in our lives.  The actual gathering and meal were the frosting on the already-delicious cake.

When the big moment arrived, my in-laws arrived with their children and dishes to share.  We socialized as we completed meal details.  As we sat to begin our meal, we each spoke of what we were most thankful for, lighting a candle as we spoke.  My four-year-old son approached the adults' table with his electric candle  to say, "I am thankful for friends and food."  The other children followed.  The tables glowed with candlelight.  When the meal was complete, my new cousin-in-law's wife helped me with dishes!  Adult cousins stayed to play an hour of games.  It was beautiful.  It was bliss.  It was complete.

Since that Thanksgiving meal, my thoughts on family are these.  Family is the group of beings we call loved ones: biological kin, dear friends, those we choose to love.  We are a part of one human family.  Strangers are friends yet to meet.  I see this in action every time we take public transportation or play in public spaces.  There are so many kind people all over the world who are someone's loved ones.  Most people in my life are loved ones.  And when it comes to Thanksgiving, I invite my beloved ones, expect nothing in return, and am thrilled by the gifts that unfold.  We now know how to send out appreciations and set the stage for the bonding of loved ones.  We now know a deeper meaning for the word family.

Love bugs

Giving thanks with paint

One place setting with meal blessing

Collectively counting our blessings

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