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All In It Together

“I no longer expect things to make sense. I know there is no safety. But that does not mean there is no magic. It does not mean there is no hope. It simply means that each of us has reason to be wishful and frightened, aspiring and flawed. And it means that, to the degree we are lost, it is on the same ocean, in the same night.” – Elizabeth Kaye

It is the holidays, the time of year when we are once again asked to recognize how we are all in this together. How truly, we are all adrift in the same big ocean of life and under the same dark sky. We are more similar than we are different as human beings, and yet our lives are nothing if not a testimony to the long list of our differences and how incredibly challenging it is to tolerate other people’s weaknesses and flaws.

Finding the love and patience to sustain our relationships is the magic in life. A recent study of thousands of couples sited the most frequent cause of breakups and divorces were rarely about big issues, but rather the build up of small gestures or lack of them. Certainly a look back through our collective human history is nothing if not a testimony to how incredibly flawed we all are- and how little things can turn bad and ugly on a big scale.

Especially at the holidays we see how even within our own families, our similarities and genetic ties are challenging to grasp. Hanging around our extended family, perhaps even more acutely than with our partners and children, demands we learn and re-learn how we are related. It takes separating the essential loveliness of the people around us from all the irritating traits that fill the din.

Overwhelming our sense of connection are the small things- how people chew too loudly, or talk over other people, or drip food from the corner of their mouth, or talk while they are chewing�the perfumes we wear or antiperspirant that we don’t, or the crazy things we offer as gifts that get taken the wrong way, the hurtful ‘jokes’ that pass as conversation at the dinner table. In my house these lists are infinite and trivial and weighty. Learning to sustain our relationships and choosing to stay happens in all the small moments of the everyday mess of life.

I write this at a time when I am struck by just how often and how hard I have to work at loving people and accepting them as they are so annoying. This is coupled with a continuous chorus of people I know who can’t quite commit to their relationships, the old one foot out the door syndrome, because living with them is so excruciatingly trying. We all want our own space, and order to prevail as we would have it, but rarely is that the nature of living with other humans. It all comes down to admitting just how difficult the whole business of love is and realizing that I am just as annoying as the people who annoy me. These issues surfaced frequently in the early years of creating a family and the most important takeaway lesson of our years in marriage counseling was this one- that if you can hold what is deeply lovable about someone in one hand while holding what is most annoying about them in the other- side by side; balance, patience and choosing to forgive and love in spite of the difficulty is possible.

Taking that lesson to the world at large is at the heart of the holiday season. Yet in some ways it is even more challenging because strangers by definition are well, strange, (at least to us), and so holding what is loveable about them with what is flawed about them can sometimes be hard to imagine. Among strangers we face a different list which separates us- how people dress, or smell, ignore us, talk over us or interrupt (one of my big weaknesses as a stranger) and here again the list can be lengthy. Yet, the results are universal � all of the human flaws that make it easy to make these unknown people ‘other’ than us, taken to the extreme, are at the heart of many of our serious social ills.

In the holiday giving spirit, let’s go forward admitting how annoying and flawed we all are, so that we aren’t surprised that living together is so challenging. Embrace the time we have with people we love and go in knowing we choose to get over it, so that we can experience the brief yet life changing moments of holding on to what we all want the most- each other.

Happy Holidays!