Thriving in the Face of the Familiar

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I chased the sun for the entire plane ride there. Once we crested above the wintry blizzard at takeoff, the clouds below offered a clear, crisp line. Its similarity to the second-floor view of the prairie home I grew up in was startling.

Scanning out from my window seat, I half expected to see telephone poles leaping out, offering change from the monotony of the line. The sun did that, anyway; a leaking red orb held just below my replacement horizon.

That blaring red was my target. It was in the direction my plane urged ceaselessly toward as it spread itself through the thinning clouds. Eventually the clouds subsided completely and the plane touched down amongst the glittering city. Back west for the holidays. Back in the province I was raised. Christmas with family for the first time in four years.

“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.”
~Ram Dass

I wish I had some surefire way to navigate through the ups and downs of family. A magic balm to soothe finicky nephews, a patient and understanding ear to listen to brothers’ troubles and a tolerance for the neuroses in my mother that I’ve adopted and don’t quite accept in myself. I wish I were perfect. Unfortunately, spending time with family tends to accentuate my humanness. And it’s anything but perfect.

This gets exacerbated by the pressure of time: I haven’t lived in the same province, country or sometimes even continent as my family for the majority of the past nine years, so when I am here I want to cram in as much quality time as humanly possible. There’s that word again, human. I keep getting reminded that life is different than when I had a brother or two as roommates or living in my basement suite. For one thing, they’ve got mini versions of themselves in tow. New humans are in the mix.

A plane and a car ride plopped me down into the everyday schedules of these people I’ve known from my birth. I want visits to be flashy and exciting, spontaneous and fun. But nap times need to be adhered to, and deadlines don’t dissolve just because I have a month out of my regular structure. I know that I sometimes expect too much.

Spending time in Southern Alberta offered me an eerie mix of reverse culture shock and comforting familiarity. I will simply never understand the lifestyle of fenced-in suburbia, miles away from a grocery store. Yet on the back of every massive pick-up truck is the license plate that’s been burned into my memory. The vivid red jumps out at me just like the sun did on the plane ride. There are these flashes of the familiar that reach right down into the recesses of my memory and suddenly I’m on another road trip to Calgary, making up games and trying to spot cars from other provinces or states. Coming back to Alberta as an adult snaps me out of the life I’ve put effort into creating. It mixes my past and present in a way I’m not too sure about.

I always did have to extend certain effort to root in the now, to not have my consciousness be pulled backward into historical obscurity. This task is especially difficult when surrounded by the people who have influenced my life-long patterns and habits.

I had to come up with ways to thrive during my holiday with family.

First of all, I’m recognizing the need to drop my expectations. Life is complicated and just because I was able to pause my life for a few of weeks and fly a few thousand miles away from it doesn’t mean everyone can. I’m learning the importance of openly communicating expectations and obligations. I’m responsible for doing the legwork to organize gatherings I want to happen just as I am for setting boundaries and declaring “me time.” The key is to share my thoughts and expectations with those around me.

I was also able to share parts of myself I can’t when I’m not there. Daily modified yoga poses with my dad were a treat for both of us. After over 35 years in the construction business, his body was eagerly accepting the time to stretch.

Overall, my time out west was nourishing. I keep on packing these life experiences onto myself and every time I go back where I came from, I learn something different.

Perhaps the most striking moments of my trip were the vast stretches of sky, spread out before me in unobscured glory over the rolling coulees.

It was those moments, driving along old, familiar routes or stopped at a scenic parking lot, that would bring tears to my eyes.

Taking in the magic of the familiar with a new perspective is a beautiful thing.

I may not have reached enlightenment, but time with the family was indeed enjoyable.

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