For me, and I guess for many of you, Christmas is all about family. It might be the only time of year we all gather. Or the time of the year one becomes most aware of not having a family, or not wanting to be a part of one’s family. It is a time of tradition and repetition, of habits (good & bad), genealogy – and, because nothing ever stays the same – great challenges.
I find these words, written by the American psychotherapist Thomas Moore, capturing the complexity of family life in a beautiful way:
Nothing is more suitable for care of the soul than family, because the experience of family includes so much of the particulars of life. In a family you live close to people that otherwise you might not even want to talk to. Over time you get to know them intimately. You learn their most minuscule, most private habits and characteristics.
Family life is full of major and minor crises—the ups and downs of health, success and failure in career, marriage, and divorce—and all kinds of characters. It is tied to places and events and histories. With all of these felt details, life etches itself into memory and personality. It’s difficult to imagine anything more nourishing to the soul.
But family life is never easy:
To some extent all families are dysfunctional. No family is perfect, and most have serious problems.
A family is a microcosm, reflecting the nature of the world, which runs on both virtue and evil. We may be tempted at times to imagine the family as full of innocence and good will, but actual family life resists such romanticism. Usually it presents the full range of human potential, including evil, hatred, violence, sexual confusion, and insanity.
In other words, the dynamics of actual family life reveal the soul’s complexity and unpredictability, and any attempts to place a veil of simplistic sentimentality over the family image will break down.
The sentimental image of family that we present publicly is a defense against the pain of proclaiming the family for what it is—a sometimes comforting, sometimes devastating house of life and memory.
from Care of the Soul: Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life by Thomas Moore