Freedom in Acceptance

Once the holidays were over, but before the beautiful boredom of the normal routine of life continued, I began most conversations with the standard post-Christmas greeting: “So, how was your holiday?”  The responses were the typical: “Stressful.” “Glad I didn’t have to work, but…God, my family gets crazier and crazier every year.”  One friend actually surprised me by smiling and saying: “It was GREAT!”  When I jokingly replied: “Wow, you’re the first one to answer so enthustiacally,” she quickly set me straight.  “Well, I decided not to spend the ENTIRE time with my family.  I flew out the day after Christmas.”

I am all too familiar with the mixture of aggravation, exasparation and weariness one feels when forced to spend several  days with people who share your last name.  While I am not such a cynic that I find the expectation of family togetherness during Christmas to be a futile farce, I am a realist.  An honest one.  There is no combination of people who can spark equal amounts of rage and fatigue more than the dozen or so wackos who break bread with you on Christmas Day.

In years past, I have felt like many of the friends who spent this past holiday season biting their tongues and grinding their teeth.  I rolled my eyes at sisters in law as they offered me thinly veiled judgments dressed up conspicously as “helpful advice.” I have bit my tongue as cousins shared asinine get-rich-quick schemes with me, asking me to go on wild goose chases around Chinatown when I got back to New York in order to aid in their schemes that were doomed to fail. I have diplomatically “agreed to disagree” with the uninformed, idiotic political and religious views of in laws and other peripheral family members.  In years past, I have eagerly gotten on an airplane as soon as my familial obligations were complete.

This year I took a vow of acceptance.  It was an informal one.  I did it in front of my altar as I went through my normal evening prayers.  I simply thought: Perhaps, I will forgo the judgment of family this year and just accept them as they are.  Perhaps I will accept that certain unfortunate comments will fall from their lips.  Perhaps I will accept that a series of redundant, raucaus “debates” will occur among certain people who happen to share my last name.  And most of all, I will accept that the woman who shares my last name (and who happens to have given birth to me as well) will have a minor life-altering crisis to which she will overreact and speak in hyperbolic accuastions such as: “No one gives a damn about what happens to me; maybe I should just go sleep under the bridge!”

So, a month ago, I walked into the wonderful winter warmth of New Orleans basking in my vow to ACCEPT.  To shun judgment, choosing instead to live in the light of compassionate Buddhahood.

It was difficult to keep my vow.  My first day there a person who shares my last name decided to get my feedback on an idea for an innovative invention he had been considering for months.  This person exuberantly explained that since most people use their cell phones to tell the time now-a-days, a nifty invention would be a cell phone that could be worn on your wrist.  “Like you would wear a watch!,” he elaborated as I worked hard to make my face look neutral.  When I asked him if he had done any reasearch to see if this innovative idea either already existed or (more likely) didn’t exist because there was no market for it, the person who shared my last name looked surprised.  He told me his next step in the invention process was to start looking for investors to make this wrist watch/cell phone thing happen.   “How can I go about researching it anyway,” he shrugged.  “You don’t know what people want until you offer it to them.”

I could have shared all the things that were wrong with his premature plan.  But, I had made a solemn vow.  And I was on my way to get a po boy.  I imagined how this much-cherished culinary experience of mine would be tainted if I shared it with someone whose ill-planned dream I had just belittled.  The fried shrimp lying yummily in between two fresh slices of french bread might not taste as savory if I had to devour it while apologizing profusely to an angry person who was kind enough to buy me a po boy.

I wished the person who shared my last name luck.  We ate a po boy.  I took a nap.  All was right with the world.

Several days into my vow, I spent THREE DAYS with the woman who gave birth to me.  It was during this experience that I realized the true freedom in acceptance.  While most mother-daughter relationships are fraught with complex emotions and paradoxes, the one I share with my mother is a unique twist on the time-honored tradition of adult daughters being driven crazy by their mothers.  When it comes to what makes my relationship with my mother a potential for developing a substance abuse problem, it really is about basic differences in personality and perspectives.  For instance, I am a fan of logic and reason.  My mother is not.  I believe in action-oriented approaches to problem solving.  My mother believes in creating problems for herself and then voicing disbelief of and anger with the world for being a place that does not accomodate an individual’s repeated decisions to act irresponsibly.

This Christmas my mother voiced this disbelief to me several times.  Once, she was severely annoyed that the cable company cut off her cable the day after Christmas.  When I asked her if she had paid the bill, she unabasdedly answered, “Well, no, I didn’t.”  When I innocently joked, “Well, then doesn’t it make sense that your cable was cut off; I mean, your not paying the bill and all,” she looked at me as if I were completely clueless to the bigger issue she saw in the cable company cutting off service she had not paid for.

“I mean, it’s Christmas,” she huffed and puffed.  “It’s like they’re saying, ‘We don’t care if you had to buy gifts for your kids, we’re still gonna cut off your service.'”  At this point I could have further offered my more logical and reasonable take on this sinister plot Cox Cable formulated to punish my mother for not paying them.  For instance, I could have reminded her that she had not, in fact, bought gifts for her kids. Nor her grand kids for that matter. That her decision to not pay Cox Cable was not a noble one, steeped in Single Mother Sacrifice And Selflessness.

But, I remembered my vow.  I remembered how much better that po boy had tasted once I had fought valiantly to keep my vow to live with acceptance.

“Yeah, that was kindda cruel of the cable company,” I pretended to finally understand her annoyance.  “I am sure that somewhere here in this city some mother didn’t pay her cable bill because she bought her kids food or an Ipod touch instead.”

My mother seemed satisfied that I understood her outrage at the cable company’s lack of compassion.  She even noted that my being able to admit that she was right was a sign of my maturity. 

I ate a bowl of left over gumbo.  I took a nap.  All was right with the world.

This concept of accepting people.  Of not expending energy on judging their actions, questioning thier choices.  Instead, simply surrendering to the reality of this is who this person is, always has been and always will be makes it all the easier for someone to accept the same reality about you.

This Christmas was quite possibly the most enjoyable one yet.  Accepting the truth of my family freed up so much time in my day and space in my brain.  I was able to eat more, nap more and even exercise more.  I was so impressed with how much happier acceptance made my holiday that I carried my vow with me back to work.  I’ve learned to accept that the teenaged brain is a bizarre little mechanism that seems to function quite differently than my own.  A few weeks into the new year, a teenaged person voiced irritation with me for putting a big red F across a quiz she had failed.

I explained that the F was only there because SHE had failed the quiz and not because “F” was my favorite letter of the alphabet so I just went all crazy writing it across every quiz I graded. When she replied that she still thought it was kind of wrong of me to “actually write F across the paper like I did bad,” I decided to accept something: She was 13.  And so was her brain.

I ate my pastrami sandwich.  Went to the bathroom and had a pee.  All was right with the world.

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