My friend Zoe died on Sunday. She was 10, and she is irreplaceable. If you knew Zoe, you know exactly what I mean, and you’re one of the lucky ones. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and all I keep thinking about is how lucky I am that I got to spend some of the precious time Zoe had here in this world with her. The death of a child is a great teacher of the potential extravagance of time. The holiday season is particularly difficult for those that are grieving loved ones, and as I’m aging I’m learning more and more that in order to avoid being extravagant with my own time, I have to stop spending it on things and people who make me feel sad or unappreciated.
We live in a world where it’s beyond difficult to discern who will truly be there for us, and who just likes wishing us a happy birthday on Facebook. I know people who I would do anything for, and have done so much for in the past, and they have turned into some of my harshest critics. These people won’t get any “I’m thankful for you” messages from me this week and probably won’t see me this holiday season. Sorry, this relationship is too extravagant with my time. I’d rather spend the free moments I do have with people who don’t keep score when it comes to who visited who and with people who don’t only show up in my text messages when they need something: namely, my time.
I can no longer justify showing up to a holiday party “because everyone goes” if it means I have to sacrifice the ability to make a memory with someone who is authentically showing up for me regularly. I’m not talking about people who pass by and exchange banal platitudes. I’m talking about the people who already know I had a rough weekend and show up Monday morning with coffee. So why are the people with banal platitudes the ones I feel forced to spend my holidays with? What is this weird, awful sense of obligation and guilt associated with the functions I decide whether or not to attend?
There are always myriad groups that demand we have a soiree to celebrate the season. Family, work, friends, school, and on and on and on. My extended family has to rent a hall to have a Christmas gathering each year. So we pack over 50 people into a space filled with crockpots bursting with things that I won’t eat. There is usually a tree somewhere in the corner and everyone basically ignores its splendor. Instead, they sit across from each other, arguing about politics over heaping piles of unknown casseroles, and the ones who aren’t involved in the debate roll their eyes knowingly.
Don’t get me wrong. I come from a large, loving family, but there is also dysfunction. I think most of us can say that about our families. I love all of these people, but not all of them actually invest anything in any type of relationship with me. Some of them do the exact opposite – they actively scoff at my choices when I’m not around and are judgmental about their perceptions of my life. Typically I show up to family Christmas anyway, so that I can see Aunt Cheryl, but this involves spending an entire afternoon of my valuable time having meaningless conversations with people who don’t really care about me – because they didn’t come to see me. They came to see some other family member. I’m not judging, I’m just saying we can be more productive with our moments of opportunity.
Instead, this year I think I’ll ask Aunt Cheryl to meet me for coffee and have a real conversation with someone who actually takes the initiative to show me she cares. (Call me Aunt Cheryl – let’s go get coffee!)
I’m going to forego the traditional holiday party for a non-traditional holiday one-on-one visit with people I don’t get enough moments with. I can’t think of a better way to honor Zoe and her family than to use my time in a way that cherishes the people I love, and rewards those who cherish me. After all, if the worst kind of extravagance is wasting time on the inconsequential, then the best kind of opulence is giving someone deserving your complete undivided attention.
Anna Layer lives in Hartford with her three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.