I have only one sibling. However, I grew up in a large Hispanic extended family. My mom was the oldest of 6 children which, has grown to 13 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, spouses, stepchildren and other family members. The most important things to my maternal grandparents were faith, then family, so that meant (and means) family gatherings. These gatherings aren't just for holidays or special occasions. I mean weekly Sunday Dinners. There was even an occasion after my mother died that my grandparents, uncles and aunts showed up to the probate attorney’s office because I was young and they thought he was trying to take advantage of my brother and me, and create a divide among us. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Until the early 2000's, my grandparents lived in Las Cruces, NM. For every major holiday, all the family--who didn’t live in town--would travel to Las Cruces and would call “dibbs” on any open room (and access was based on seniority or who arrived first), or couch and most of the small kids would camp out in the den because they knew then they could stay up later that way. A few would reserve a room at the nearby hotel. There would be food for days, movie watching, games played and conversations. Of course, having a household that would sometimes swell to over 30 people, there were tense moments of irritation, but if it got to be too crowded, you could easily go for a walk in the nearby cotton fields or to the nearby lake for respite.
The last Christmas in Las Cruces was 2003. My grandfather had died in 1997. My grandmother and aunt who lives with her, thought it would be better to be closer to the family in Albuquerque. Almost all the family made the last vacation trek to Las Cruces. What made the holiday a little more somber was that my uncle, a Sargent in the National Guard, had received orders that he was being deployed to Iraq shortly after the holiday. We made the best of the holiday again with games, laughter, food, and movies. In particular, we had become big fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy, Lord of the Rings. The Christmas before, we watched the first two segments around the TV at my grandmas. Most of the family was anticipating the theatrical release of the last segment, Return of the King. We made a plan and invited whomever wanted to go. Now, this is before you could reserve your reclining seat at the nearby theater, and as a new release we weren’t sure how crowded it would be, so the day after Christmas we set out for the local theater…just under 20 of us. We grabbed an entire row (or now that I think about it, maybe it was two) and settled in for the movie. I sat next to my aunt who was a Tolkien fan and had read the books years before, so she was a subject matter expert. PSA: don’t sit next to the person who has read the books. The movies (I don’t care which book) are never the same as the books and her comments throughout the movie reminded of just that. I smile now because I think in ways I do the same thing. Christmas’ since are still wonderful and soul feeding, but they’re not the same. I think how grateful I am every day for this experience of the extended family.
I am also extremely grateful for my community of friends, many who have been part of my life since I was very young and who are part of my extended family. I realized just this past week how much of an impact it is when surrounding yourself with the right people, how important the right "family" can be. Two weeks ago, the leadership team, at the non-profit I work with, met about the upcoming holidays. The holidays aren’t joyous for some. For those, especially those who may no longer have a connection with their family and especially for those individuals who we work with, and whose pay is not a livable wage in our consumerist society, it can be dauntingly stressful to feel like you can’t provide for your family. That can lead to anxiety and depression which can be a trigger to a slippery slope of relapse or worse. This week it happened to one of the brightest talents in the room. He cited depression and change. For the first time it really hit me, how important it is to have the right supports around you and it made me think about a year ago.
I have never been afraid to be alone. I actually enjoy it at times because I think it helps me to be a better person to be around when I’ve spent me time to work through my internal issues, but I’ve realized I’m okay doing it because I have a family and friends support system that I know I can call if company is needed. Last year, when I was going through and finalizing divorce proceedings. I knew my traditions wouldn’t change, but they were changing for my children and their father. Knowing this, I did what I could to help ensure the transition was a little less bumpy. There was 22 years of marriage and our own traditions, I wanted ensure that their father also felt involved and not alone during the holidays, so I made sure he knew there was an open invitation to my grandma’s and if there was something special he wanted to do with them, I was supportive of it. I think about how some of the fathers I work with are struggling with that. I think out some of my friends are struggling with that. I think about how important inclusion is. It also made me realize, I am where I’m supposed to be. As we live through the season of gratitude into the season of giving, think about what a blessing it is to spend time with someone. It makes me reflect on Matthew 25: 34-40 and not to get preachy, but how doing something for someone else without thought of repayment is the biggest gift to the world.
Last Saturday, I invited a number of family members to join me to watch Justice League (this time my brother could reserve our seats in advance). It was great, and we took up the back row. There were 12 in attendance. I sat between my son and my niece. I loved seeing her get as excited as I did when Wonder Woman did her 'thang and giggled when my son would give me a hard time when he saw me get excited. As the tag line for the movie goes…You Can’t Save the World Alone. We do need others as the social creatures we are (or as my first-grade teacher labeled me, as the "social butterfly"). It’s these moments and the conversations afterwards that I live for. We are planning to do it again for the next Star Wars release.
So, my hope for you on this Thanksgiving Holiday is that you are surrounded by love ones whether related or not, have a wonderful meal before you and if not, I have a wonderfully boisterous group of people that would love to have you join us.
With light and love,