When I was growing up, the holidays were my favorite time of the year. It wasn’t about the presents or the eggnog (not a big fan). It was about getting together with my family – my sisters, my cousins, aunts and uncles and friends from out of town. It used to be a lot more fun. These days, I get so stressed just thinking about going to the holiday parties. Find the right gifts, wrap the presents, get the kids ready, make sure the kids have their nice dresses ironed, etc. What happened to all the fun? It feels like the holiday cheer these days has been replaced by the holiday anxiety!
Two things happened this past Christmas weekend that made me reflect and think about all this stress and anxiety of the holidays in a different and more positive way.
First, as we were about to leave our neighborhood this past Saturday to go to my aunt’s house for our annual family Christmas Eve dinner, we decided to make a quick stop by the neighbor’s house so that my 6 year old daughter could drop off a present for her friend who lives next door. As we approached our neighbor’s driveway, a police officer approached our car. Apparently our new neighbors weren’t home and their dog (a little pug) had gotten out of the house somehow and unfortunately got hit by a car.
The dog was still alive but in bad shape. They needed to contact the owners but didn’t know how to contact them so they wondered if I knew how to reach them. Right away, I called the neighbors’ cell phone and gave them the bad news – that Riley, their pug was still alive but in bad shape. I walked over to the road where the animal control folks had this little dog huddled up in a blanket on a cold winter road. Ultimately, the little pug is fine but has some pretty bad bruises.
We got to the family gathering and had a good time. We ate, we talked, we laughed and everything was just fine. We even played cards – a little texas hold ’em. The whole night flew by pretty fast.
The second thing that happened landed on Monday after Christmas Day. We learned that a good friend of ours had a death in the family. Our friend’s mom passed away at the ripe old age of 95! She wasn’t sick and passed in her sleep.
Did you ever feel that life sends you certain signals sometimes?
So, here’s what I realized: these holiday rituals that we have all commoditized and materialized in some way have a deeper meaning. It isn’t about the presents or gathering in the holiday spirit. The annual family get together is meant to show us each year how things change and that life moves fast. The annual family gatherings are the only constant each and every year that forces us to realize that we have a short amount of time on this earth.
It is a snapshot, a picture each year that is supposed to remind me that time waits for no one and that with me or without me, life will go on. My kids are growing up so fast. My parents are getting older. My sisters and cousins are also getting older, smarter, more stubborn and some less funny (ok…you can’t tell them that).
I believe that the holidays are meant to remind us that life is short. That people age. That what we have to appreciate is not the house, the car or the IPad2 that we received in our stocking, but the TIME we have with those around us.
As I learn to taper down my anxiety and stress by embracing the chaos, I believe I have to learn to be in the PRESENT. That’s what these holidays are about. To allow us the brief time in the year where we can really stop and smell the chestnuts. To feel the warmth of good company of family friends and loved ones.
From the holiday cards we get in the mail with the photos of the kids of our friends and family, we get subtle hints that we all age. In all the chaos of life, this is a fact we forget. And for some reason, the neighbor’s dog getting hit by the car and the friend’s mom passing away reminded me of the real purpose of the season: to appreciate the present moment. To BE PRESENT. Because in an instant, life can change.
Ten years from now, I will likely have forgotten the stress and anxiety of the 2011 holiday season but will never forget the kiss I got from my kids on Christmas Eve. That’s a gift I will always treasure.
Rule #6: Be Present | Embrace the Chaos! | Bob Miglani