DECEMBER 25, 2000
It's all about family
© 2000

Christmas is a holiday many people anxiously look forward to for a variety of reasons.

To many it is a religious holiday to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. For others it is commercial cacophony froth with retailers' reality checks. Children look forward to the annual time-out from school and the prospect of gifts -- giving and receiving.

Christmas frankly offers an opportunity for us to observe the best and worst in all of us.

The holiday season, for many of us, means visiting with family members from whom we may have been separated throughout the year. It can be an annual blessing, and/or a curse.

For the Metcalf's the holiday season traditionally has meant traveling across the country from California to New England. My family lives in Rhode Island, and my wife's family lives in Lexington, Mass. This year, for only the second time in 19 years, we will be separated from family by some 3,000 miles.

Previously we have made a lot of cross-country holiday trips. The annual cross-country Christmas jaunt, and some elements had become consistent axioms for us. We would routinely fly 6,000 miles by air (3,000 each way). We would usually log another thousand miles or so schlepping back and forth between Lexington and North Providence, R.I., with usually one special trip to Kennebunkport, Maine, to visit my brother. Inevitably, and routinely, we would try to make vain futile efforts to see as many friends and relatives as the limited time allowed. It has always seemed strange (but a grim reality to be accepted) that we are expected to go to friends and family instead of them coming to see us.

One year (during a summer trip) we tried reversing the equation and we rented a house on Cape Cod and told everyone who wanted to see us to come and visit. It was a miserable failure. Friends wouldn't inconvenience themselves to make the trip, and family that did, itched and moaned about the inconvenience and are still complaining two years later.

Occasionally we'd try to slip in a one-day trip to New York City and the formula was then complete in which, despite our well intended concerted efforts, expense, time and best intentions, the only thing we routinely accomplished was to succeed in having someone we love PO'd at us all the time.

My family is invariably annoyed when we spend time with my wife's family. My wife's family is annoyed when we spend time with my family. And all those friends and associates who look forward to our annual pilgrimage are annoyed if or when we don't get time to visit them.

Despite the inevitable tension, frustration and attendant negative aspects of this pilgrimage, it has been an event we actually (albeit, perversely) looked forward to each year.

Upon reflection, part of the anticipation of the holidays is the classic case of anticipation exceeding realization. Still, even with all the hustle and bustle, itching and moaning, yin and yang -- for me, all the negative stuff (including icy roads inhabited with lousy drivers, the crying, coughing baby on the airplanes which virtually guarantee a new winter cold) is quickly overshadowed by those special moments that no Hallmark card will ever capture:

To me, the holidays are more a tool than an event. A tool which serves to crystallize all those important strong elements of family, which we tend to either take for granted or overlook during the workaday course of our lives.

The holiday tool makes us focus on friend and family, and perhaps (hopefully) allows us to recognize the very good and important things with which God has gifted us. To those of us who live and work distant from our native roots, friends become family. Those of you who have adopted surrogate families are blessed and don't diminish your biological family but add to it with the love of one time strangers who have become central to your lives.

Regardless of how much scar tissue we have accumulated, or how unfair life may seem at any given moment of crisis -- this is the time to reflect, and appreciate the blessings large and small, and to remember (as Garth Brooks sings) that sometimes "God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers."

Next week we can worry about what our elected officials are doing with our money. Next week we can fret about whether or not our new president will or won't move in the right direction to cure the republic of the neglect and wounds suffered. For now, however, I just want to bask in the gentle warming glow of family and loved ones. Because, frankly, family is more important than anything any rascal who works for us in a loaned mansion is going to do or not do this week.

Please accept my most sincere and heartfelt best holiday wishes to you and yours. The athletic director at my high school (LaSalle Academy) had a line I often use in toasts. In the words long ago spoken but not forgotten of Brother Anthony, "May the coming year result in your greatest wish becoming your least achievement."

Happy holidays.