We are entering the season of celebrations. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah…. These are often joy-filled times when loved ones gather to share meals, rituals and conversation. For some, they are wrought with angst and turmoil as old hurts and negative assessments arise in the midst of the gathering of real people who have challenging histories together. This has me thinking about hopes, expectations and what brings meaning to a celebration.
I have been blessed with another good reason to consider this recently. The first of my four children got married in New Jersey last weekend. It is safe to say that I am still riding a bit ‘high’ from the experience, especially when someone invites me to talk about it. And while I am delighted to describe the awesome ceremony, the lovely venue or the terrific dance music, what I focus on most is the fact that so very many of our family and friends made the trip out East to be a part of it.
Weddings can be a source of great anxiety. There are many details to tend to and ample opportunity for hiccups. The expectations around how things ‘should be’ are wide and deep. But, I can say with all honesty, that if anything went ‘wrong’ at this wedding, I sure didn’t see it. But then again, I know I wasn’t looking for it either.
As many of my friends can tell you, MY biggest concern was that I would be a crying embarrassment during the ceremony. I had good reason to be worried about this! In the months leading up to the wedding, I would find myself shedding tears just at the thought of watching my son exchange vows with his beautiful bride. A love song would come on the radio and there I would be, gasping for breath as I tried to control overwhelming emotions of joy and sentimentality. I did some intensive prep in the weeks prior to the wedding to try to get ahold of myself and I think it made a huge difference. But the factor that seemed to help me the most was being surrounded by so many people who mean so much to me. Yes, I did need to invoke the very helpful strategy offered by my next door neighbor of jamming the nail of my index finger into the pad of my thumb a few times (allowing me to be distracted from the emotion and focused on the pain). And, I channeled the image of a dear friend as she floated tear-free down the aisle with her son this summer. I even doused my handkerchief with an essential oil that helps with anxiety and used a centering breathing practice. Even with all that, as I encountered those who so generously gave of their time to witness this wonderful event, I knew it was them that gave me what I needed to be present and not a balling mess.
This was what gave the celebration meaning for me.
In the weeks ahead, as you come together around the table, tree or menorah, perhaps there is value in asking yourself what holds meaning for you at these times? My guess is it won’t have anything to do with how smoothly whipped the mashed potatoes are or the kind of gift you give or receive. It’s different for everyone and something we rarely consider. The beauty of reflecting on this in advance is it sets the stage for you to look for it. If you are open, you will see it.