By Dana Gornall
The holidays were always centered around chaos in my family.
As a kid we went to both my maternal grandparents’ and paternal grandparents’ houses, and celebrated on Christmas morning at home. Then Christmas night we went down the street to a neighbor’s house and celebrated with them too. Each house would be filled with cousins, aunts and uncles. We would sit at the table—typically a few tables shoved together—covered in a vinyl, holiday table cloth, sometimes the kids would be at separate card tables, and the grown ups would talk and talk while my cousins and I would eagerly wait for present time.
As we grew older the chaos just extended with spouses and grandchildren, friends that had smaller families would be invited over, and dogs would be running amuck trying to steal food off paper plates left on the tables.
I never knew how much I appreciated that chaos until it was over.
The last few years have splintered apart that growing clan of family holidays. First the pandemic hit, shuttering us all into our own nuclear family homes, celebrating over Zoom and Facebook Rooms, Facetiming, and phone calls. Then my dad grew ill slowly—early signs of dementia began creeping in, which ironically causes other issues like being off balance and falling. This cascades into injuries from falls, infections from injuries, and a rabbit hole of hospital stays.
He passed last February.
This year we attempted an early Thanksgiving when one of my brother’s was in town. It was semi-chaotic, giving way to that old familiarity of chatter and food. But the actual Thanksgiving ended up being very small. My son seemed to be coming down with COVID symptoms (revealing later a positive test).
Sitting in bed post holiday, my dog pressed up against my leg snoring, my rapid COVID test brewing in the other room, I think about how all of those room-filled holidays felt overwhelming and exhausting, but how I would love to have those back if we could.
The one concept in Buddhism that is talked about over and over again is impermanence.
Nothing stays, nothing stops, we are always in a state of constant motion of change even when we feel like everything is the same. Like slow motion stills, hitting frame by frame, life is always shifting and moving forward. The cycle of suffering marches on as long as we hang onto those pieces of the past.
Everyone talks about “the new normal” or “life post pandemic,” but what is normal. Are we truly post pandemic or has the act of socializing driven off a cliff and landed in a fiery crash at the bottom of some rocky valley? Do rapid COVID tests line the paths of future gatherings?
The other day I was ruminating on it all.
Wishing things were different. Sad that they are different. Wanting everything to be like it always was. Let It Go popped in my head; that overplayed song from the Disney movie Frozen that was popular about 10 years ago.
I check my COVID test—negative. Fingers crossed it stays that way.
I know life is not a picture perfect movie because it never was—never has been. But those days of holiday chaos were just that, imperfect perfection. I remind myself to find the joy in the small things: a quiet morning in bed with a laptop and my dog snoring next to me, sun streaming through the window blinds, my family still a family—even at times apart.
I know we can’t predict what comes of next month, next week or tomorrow but for today I’ll accept that there is calm after the chaos, chaos after the calm, and sometimes we just sit neatly somewhere in between it all.