Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Outside-the-rotation travel blogging

Xmas eve travel. For somebody like me, who doesn't really care about this particular holiday but is acutely conscious of how large it bulks for older relatives, traveling at Christmas is a fairly ambivalent experience. Dharmonia and I have been "going home for Christmas," separately or together, for twenty-nine years, usually in conditions of considerable meteorological, navigational, or economic hardship. When you're 25, that feels fairly reasonable and fairly inevitable--and when you're 18, you can't wait to go home so that Mom can cook, launder, and coddle for you.

But by the time you're 35, it's not so much a vacation as an ordeal. When you have kids, I imagine the pressure must be pretty much insurmountable--you pretty much have to take the young'uns home for the grandparents' sake, though I sure don't even the exhausted and harried young parents I see, at this time of year, hoicked little ones through holiday-trafficked airports.

By the time you're 45, it's become obvious that "going home for Christmas" was never something (after adolescence, anyway) that you did for yourself--it was always something you were doing for the older folks. Either they didn't like to travel, or didn't feel up to it, or were too infirm, some of which are reasonable excuses. But when, in your late 20s or 30s, the older folks say "well, as soon as you have kids, we'll travel to you," and you realize that wouldd have been the truth--for a few years--specifically because they would have been willing to undergo the hardship, to see the grandkids, that they would refuse "merely" to see you. And when you don't have kids, that excuse is even thinner.

And then you get to be pushing 50, and it's really truly not possible for the old folks to travel--hell, in some cases, they can handle about 2 hours of your company before they are physically or mentally exhausted--and you realize that a whole new set of reasons mandating that you undergo the holiday schlep has come into play. When the elders get to a certain age and level of infirmity, you realize that you damned better make that bi-annual trip home because, not only is it impossible for the oldsters to travel, you don't know what the next year will bring. And you realize that, should you stand on your rights after 30 years of the schlep, and say "no, goddammit, this year, for the first fucking time in my life, I am staying home at the holidays," then that is the year when Something Bad will happen. And then you will really really regret staying home.

So you suck it up and say "OK, I guess this was never under my control, and was never about a 'fair exchange' or 'taking turns'"; they were never going to come visit you--even if they'd guilt-trip you for declining to come visit them. And you realize that the universe doesn't care what's fair; rather, it is asking you to put forth some effort in order to make an older person's life a little happier, even if only for 2 hours, at a season when you've never in your adult life ever been able to stay in your own home. The universe doesn't care--because it is dealing with larger issues than what is convenient for you. And it's asking you to remember that life is short and regret can be long. And that you do some awkward, frustrating, stressful, and unrewarding things because they make some other, older people happy.

And, at this season, which may be one of "comfort and joy" but can also damned sure include some loss and sorrow, it's a very small sacrifice to make.

May all beings be peaceful.

Below the jump: Mr Man's infallible instinct for the warm sunny spot:


jayce said...

I've been struggling with a similar frustration lately. Mostly that I drive 800+ miles over "breaks" (more if I include work-related miles), then am often asked by distant relatives and friends who rarely communicate with me throughout the year to come see them while I'm here (what's several more hundred miles?) all with the included guilt trip, "It'd be nice if you could see the kids."

It's not that I don't want to spend quality time with the more distant family and friends I don't see very often... but... when I make this trip, I often feel split in several directions anyway. Like you, I'd like to just stay home for once.

Don't even get me started on the "well, as soon as you have kids..." thing... I'm a woman. Don't I know that's what I'm supposed to be doing??? ; )

But you are right, the universe doesn't care (and mostly neither do the folks laying on the guilt trips)... and life is far too short to complain about making someone else happy. Young or old, infirm or fighting fit, you just don't know what the next year will bring.

Thanks for the post.

CJS said...

Thanks for the comment. As you say, particularly in light of loved ones' aging--and the unpredictability of the universe--sometimes we have to just suck it up and put forth the effort.


Dr Coyote

Constance said...

Thank you for these observations, Dr. C.

Whenever I dither and don't know what to do, I fall back on the prayer/benediction, "May all creatures be free from suffering and the cause of suffering."

Sometimes I am delusional enough to believe that bestowing the Bounty of My Company on my elders is always a favor and a treat for them - the nerve of me. I am learning that when I visit them, I have the opportunity to treat them as if they were honored guests in my own home - and I mean Rock-Star-Honored - with reverence and tenderness and attentiveness to detail. Decide what this means for you, and practice it. It is interesting to see how much dross falls away when we focus our attentiveness on our elders -- if they can stand it! They are more patient than we know.

CJS said...

Well, it is a wonderful thing when one's elders are attentive and wise. It is more difficult if, as in my case, one is dealing with decades of baggage. But that's the past. The present is all we have.

Thanks for reading.

Dr C