The holidays have arrived… along with all your relatives

Ah, the holidays. Depending on your luck (and your perspective), you may find yourself surrounded by near and distant family sometime over the next few weeks. And you may remember why distance makes the heart grow fonder. It can be daunting, amidst the pressure of finding perfect gifts, getting everyone where they need to be (and when), and struggling to keep the real spirit of the season in mind, to have extended family lurking in the shadows.

You remember them, right? The in-laws and their list of demands, the crazy uncle who always seems to be one cocktail ahead of everyone else, the branch that’s global-warming-denying/social-medicine-supporting/Obama-hating/Hillary-loving… There are at least two sides to every issue and when most families get together, there’s plenty of room to choose sides and get into a good old-fashioned boondoggle.

Family. The very mention of them sends some people heading for the woods. Maybe it’s because we’re all so damned flawed and no one knows your flaws better than they do. Or has longer memories. Or quicker tongues. Growing up around my house, it was common to hear the admonition that you’d better have thick skin to withstand all the shots that would be taken. The result? You either developed that thick skin or adopted a complicated schedule that kept you from having to show up too much.

Families are designed to prepare us for the world outside, so it’s fitting that you get tossed out of the nest with a full suit of armor. The world, as everyone knows, is a difficult place; shouldn’t hurt you a bit to know what you’re getting into. On the other hand, not everyone is naturally attuned or easily prepared for the cruelty outside. There are some (including at least one among my own kids) who simply prefer to see the world for the mesmerizing, beautiful place it is. She doesn’t need thicker skin; she needs the rest of us to have brighter, more perceptive eyes. We should all be so lucky to see the world as she does.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this:

Our families are a gift (as screwed up as they may be). A gift that, for most of us, can’t be returned. With all their flaws and our misgivings about them, they provide a window into our own personalities, which can ben mighty painful. But they’re here for us, they have our back, and they usually mean well. Really, they do. They also give us love and courage to face the world at large, and provide a safe haven where we can go to be reminded of our shortcomings when we get weary of strangers pointing them out.

Hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to have some of your family around in the next few weeks. I hope you try to be patient, and kind, and forgiving. I was reminded of this when I watched the short film “Denali.” pictured above and viewable here. In it, the narrator says, “There was this really smart scientist guy who thought that people could learn a lot from dogs. He said, ‘When someone you love walks in through the door, even if it happens five times a day, you should go totally insane with joy.’

It won’t be easy, but I promise it’s worth the effort. And wouldn’t it be nice if it happened that way for you, too?

Here’s wishing you and yours a beautiful holiday filled with moments totally insane with joy.

[Note: Read “What Our Dogs Teach Us About Aging” or, if you’re the video watching type, don’t miss Denali.]