This letter is for those super rare people with tricky family dynamics. ;) Going into the holidays, it's nice to remember what the spiritual teacher Ram Dass says:
“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”
That always cracks me up, in a humbling way.
But, sometimes, doesn't it feel like we hurt those with whom we're closest?
A simple personal example: I don't mean to brag, but one of my cats, Arya, is totally obsessed with me. (My other cat, Tywin, is generally unimpressed by me unless I'm feeding him, but thinks Stephen is actually God.)
Sweet little Arya sometimes shadows me all day long. When I'm putting away laundry, she'll even follow me back and forth from room to room. It's super cute, but she tends to get underfoot. A couple weeks ago, I was turning to put away a stack of shirts, and accidentally stepped right on her tail. Hard. The poor kitty squawked in pain, fearfully ran, and hid under the bed where I couldn't reach her.
I got on the floor, lifted the bed skirt and profusely apologized. If anyone had been witnessing, I'm sure they would've thought I was insane. I said, over and over, "Arya, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to. I'm so sorry, Arya, I'm so sorry."
The whole time, she crouched, tail puffy, staring at me with frightened eyes. Because how could I—whom she loves—have hurt her? I realized, obviously, I could never truly communicate with her. Nothing I could say could convince this hurt creature that I didn't mean to step on her, I didn't intend to hurt her. I had inflicted pain upon her. That was it. (There may or may not have been tears in my eyes.) (And yes, I know, she's a cat.)
But my point is this: sometimes we hurt people we're closest with simply because we are closest with them. They are in our proximity the most, in our energy fields if you will, so they get the brunt of our unresolved issues, our negative emotional patterns, our inclination to be over-sensitive, insecure, easily angered, judgmental, short-tempered, etc.
And it can feel difficult to explain to someone whom you've hurt that you didn't intend to hurt them, especially if they're someone you're close with. Perhaps this is a family member, a mother or father or sister or brother, who you hurt years ago, or just last week.
Maybe, from your side, it was completely unintentional, as accidental as stepping on an underfoot kitten, but, from their side, it hurts, and it hurts because of you.
Or, maybe, you knew what you were doing back when you hurt them. But, all the same, right now, you truly wish you hadn't. You long to go back in time and stop yourself. These instances can feel impossible to explain—you might as well explain intentions to a frightened house cat.
Yet, maybe, as you read this letter, you don't identify at all with the person stepping on the cat. You identify with the poor, innocent creature. You are the one always stepped on by your family members, always kicked out of the way, always hurt. And how could they ever do those things to you?
Listen: I'm not your father [I'm also not a Sith Lord :)]. I'm not your mother, I'm not your brother, and (in all cases but three), I'm not your sister. I cannot apologize on their behalf. And I am certainly not condoning their past behavior.
I am just a person who has spent a decent amount of time reflecting on my past, and I've drawn this conclusion: I was always doing the best I could in the moment I was in. Even when I did some REALLY STUPID things that REALLY hurt other people, I was doing my best at the time.
This personal conclusion has opened me up to some compassion: Maybe those people who hurt me, family and otherwise, were doing the best they could in the moment they were in, too.
If you immediately want to list the infinite reasons why your family member is actually the worst, okay. But how many years are you going to spend doing that? Does it bring you peace to make endless accusations against your parents—or does it bring you pain?
Because: What if? What if your mother didn't mean to hurt you? What if your father didn't intend to cause you pain?
What if each member of your family has always been doing the best they could in the moment they were in, just like you were?
What if, when you're sharing a Thanksgiving meal, you look around the table and you don't see villains and victims? Instead, you see a table full of people who are doing the best they can. Maybe, then, something within you can shift and soften, and you can find an untapped morsel of forgiveness to offer to your family member, or to offer to yourself.
As Rumi says, "Forgive: if you never know forgiveness, you'll never know the blessings that God gives."
Because you know what Arya did hours after I smashed her tail beneath my heel? She curled up in my lap, purring contently. She'd already wholly forgiven me.
I am infinitely thankful for forgiveness.
with Love and with Light,
p.s. Book rec this week is a super easy read: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. I love what he says about doing our best and not taking things personally.
p.p.s. A Reiki healer once said to me, "Your parents gave you the gift of life, the greatest gift of all. You will never—ever—be able to repay them for that."
p.p.p.s. Last year, we were stuck in Brooklyn for Thanksgiving, and celebrated alone, just us, the kitties, and a roasted chicken. This made me terribly sad at the time, but now I can see how lucky I was. If you're unable to see family this year, or are spending the holiday alone, I'm thinking of you, too. xo.