Believe it or not, not even Jesus Christ himself was spared the tangled dynamics of a less-than-perfect family. It sort of makes our own little familial eccentricities a little easier to handle, doesn't it? Ellyn von Huben looks back at the Christmas season with her own wonderfully human brood, and gets us thinking about what it means to be blessed, rotten fruit and all.
Broken branches and rotten fruit. Those words kept bouncing around in my mind after Mass on Sunday. The priest was preaching on the Holy Family and the tangled family dynamics into which our God chose to be born. Being born of a mother free from sin and raised by a foster father beyond reproach, our Lord, when he became fully human, was not spared the fully human family experience.
There are no perfect families. Anyone who says his family is perfect is lying. Or has at least excised those on the family tree who would tarnish the image and excluded those whose presence at gatherings might crack the façade of perfection. To hear the limitations of what is found in all families is not only an interesting take on how we regard the Holy Family, but also a wonderful antidote to be delivered at the time of year when we are often deluged with the unavoidable Christmas Family Newsletters. (I can’t be the only person who enjoys listening to David Sedaris read from his book "Holidays on Ice" while wrapping gifts. Hearing “Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!”is a special comfort before facing the mail)
Why begrudge people their accomplishments and happiness? I don’t. I really, really don’t. But…there is that temptation to compare ourselves to the perfection presented by the mass produced letters. And that leads to the temptation to self-pity. Plus, there are things better left unshared. I didn’t include a note to my friends the years when we have encountered bankruptcy, fleas, prolonged neurologist visits, and a variety of other soul searing events. Oh, and how about when I found out that my late grandfather once served time in prison? That could make for a newsletter that would stand out.
We have had a happy Christmas. There are many wonderful things that I could ‘brag’ about. It is the things that I would leave out that are still weighing on my mind. 2012 has not been the easiest of years. (and here I succumb to the temptation to look back on other bumpy years with a wistful sigh and see those years as ‘good old days’.) The economy has been bumpy and having 5 out of 6 of our children living at home has made for a unique drama that is a combination of Downton Abbey meets the Rabbitte family from Roddy Doyle’s novels. Tight quarters make life interesting. Let’s just call it interesting.
There were misunderstandings. Disappointments. I, who rarely cry, was brought to tears by the disappointment Bridget felt after working hard to find the perfect, hard-to-find gift for my mother-in-law, only to visit her two days before Christmas and see that one of her cousins had brought the same brilliantly conceived gift on his way out of town. (Feel free to contact me if you are interested in purchasing a 1932 Bing and Grondahl Christmas plate) Christmas brought warm, happy moments plus enough minor irritations that I found myself eager to return to work on December 26th. The work that had been leaving me with frayed nerves, a bad case of bruxism - including a lost crown - started to look like a refuge.
But I know we’re blessed. Blessed, but not perfect. In one of my quiet, sulking moments, I watched “The Family Stone”. It’s grown on me as a Christmas movie. One that makes me feel not so alone in my imperfection. (That and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”*) The best line in the movie is when a son’s new girlfriend asks, “What's so great about you guys?” and the mother replies, “Oh, nothing! It's just that we're all that we've got.”
There is comfort in being reminded that Christ himself was not spared the realities of less than perfect lineage. That there were broken branches and rotten fruit in his family tree. Why should I expect better for myself.
*And who started that rumor that Eddie was named after Cousin Eddie in the National Lampoon Vacation movies? OK, I did. Just to deflect from the clowns who said he was named after the dog on Frasier.
Ellyn von Huben is a writer and regular contributor to Word on Fire.
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