The Gift of Forgiveness

There was a period where I dreaded Thanksgiving, the way I dreaded the last three Thanksgivings, and thought about how I could get away.  I had accumulated hurts that ran deeper with each passing year, topics I wrote about in a blog post here.  Thinking of how to avoid going to Thanksgiving dinner, I fantasized about the time I worked last year, but the reality is I don’t have a job right now.  Going away with my parents, with whom I re-united five months ago after a ten year hiatus, was a possibility, but being in a remote cabin with them for four days would have posed its own challenges.

I wanted Polina to see her cousins.  They range in age from 11 to 29.  Polina is 5.  Previously they incorporated her in their get-togethers, but we were late this year and the fun had already started downstairs.  When the “kids” came out, I didn’t recognize one of them.  Faces changed, voices deepened.  Life moves on.  Missing out on their lives is the cost of holding on to my “principles.”

I grew up in a close-knit, but not by any means a perfect family.  My view of families were either- 1) close knit and dysfunctional (mine) or 2) close knit and “normal.”  I considered an absence of a relationship dysfunctional.  So when I met my husband’s family, I was relieved that they were “normal.”  Everyone got along with one another.  There were no arguments.  Nobody shouted.  I soon learned that they weren’t close in the way I expected.   They saw each other only a couple times a year, even though they lived within driving distance.  There were no get-togethers, much less phone calls, on their birthdays.  When my husband’s nieces graduated from high school, he didn’t go to their graduation.  I was confused.

I tried to change the culture of the family, thinking my idea was better.  It was like swimming in a river upstream.  I kept on swimming.  There are principles to uphold, so my way had to be the right way.  I was naive and failed to appreciate the social queues.  I saw them.  I just didn’t want to accept them.

The opposite happened from what I wanted.  I wanted to be closer, but I distanced myself.  The hurt feelings accumulated.  It was a downward spiral.  If I let myself go there, I could be quite angry.  And then the real dysfunction came out.  I learned that feelings in this family didn’t matter.  Principles didn’t matter.  Just be quiet and accept what is.  On top of other things, I grew depressed and angry, and I began to hate others.

But Polina, my five year old daughter, was innocent in this matter.  I thought there would be a new beginning, a way to be a “family” with my in-laws.  Their culture didn’t change, but they accepted her, and I wanted her to see them, even if only on major holidays.  I didn’t want to visit, but I wanted her to.  And she did.  And she enjoyed herself.

“Is mommy coming with us?” Polina asked on Thanksgiving.

Every holiday in our household, for the above-mentioned as well as personal reasons, has been stressful.  I have fond memories of holidays as a child, but since setting up house with my husband, they have been stressful.  Spending more time together seemed to be a curse.  The days were loaded with misunderstandings, arguments and resentments.  Accumulated wrongs spilled over, which made the holidays, a time of so-called joy, that much more painful.

Yesterday, I felt blessed by how well Thanksgiving went.  Was someone else having an abnormally bad Thanksgiving?  I didn’t, know, but I was grateful it didn’t fall on my house.

Was someone else having an abnormally bad Thanksgiving?  I didn’t, know, but I was grateful it didn’t fall on my house.

Early in the day when I couldn’t connect with a friend on Skype, my husband, who wanted my attention, was patient.  I noticed afterward the absence of resentment and hurt feelings on both sides and how we avoided an argument.  By the end of the day, which involved cooking side dishes by both of us and taking care of Polina, there weren’t any arguments.

“There’s 3.5 hours left,” my husband said jokingly as we drove home from Thanksgiving dinner.

Polina clung to me when we entered my sister-in-law’s house.  Polina still naps during the day which puts stress on her and me every holiday that starts at 3 pm.  This year, my sister-in-law moved it to 4 pm.  We were late because cooking took longer than expected.  Then my husband forgot his nose spray and we had to turn around, but we made it.  And everything was okay.  I didn’t harbor any hard feelings that they started dinner without us.  (We told them to.)  I didn’t feel any negativity that my sister-in-law, an elementary school principal, didn’t give me advice when I showed her what Polina and I have been working on in homeschool.  That’s my expectation, not hers.  I didn’t harbor any bad feelings that night about anything,  and that is a gift, because I couldn’t have done it on my own.  I was so entrenched in my principles.  In my view, there was a right way and a wrong way, and why would anyone want to do it the wrong way?  What I felt last night was peace and forgiveness, not because anyone did anything wrong, but because I was at peace by the fact that people operate in their own cultural context.  Before, I knew it, but resented it.

This Thanksgiving, I did not feel any hurt, a first in many years.  I am grateful that the curse of anger and circumstance did not befall on me this year.  For that I am very grateful.

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