Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day 345- Family, Finals, and Tolstoy

Dear Mr. President,

I've been thinking a lot about family dynamics today. My aunt is visiting, and, especially with the holidays approaching, I'm observing the complicated way that my family and the families of those around me interact. This afternoon, as I returned from my final (by the way, can you issue an executive order forbidding Saturday morning finals? More on this later.) I was discussing college with a coworker and mentioned that as a younger person I'd dreamed of attending NYU. I lamented that, had I gone, my life would be different, I wouldn't be struggling as a 24 year old to finish my undergraduate degree and subjected to the indignities of Saturday morning final exams. It wasn't ultimately grades or distance or even money that kept me out of NYU- it was my father. And, while the wisdom of the intervening 6 years may have taught me that I likely would have made plenty of my own mistakes, or encountered obstacles and tragedies no matter what he decided about my college possibilities, I still resent him as the reason my life is what it is. It is a resentment that is wholly unproductive, of course, and no excuse for my own faults, but his discouragement mattered so much more at that stage in my life because he was family. I think of him more around the holidays, inevitably, but this year, at least when I'm not having my entire day thrown off by inexplicably scheduled exams, I'm not as troubled as I usually am. I have the love of those people who have supported and encouraged me, and that is so much easier to hold on to and so much easier to think of as family.

No life is simple enough to blame all struggles and problems and Saturday finals on one person or once choice. Mine certainly isn't. Surely one of the essential things that we gain from these experiences are the skills necessary to interact with other humans once we're old enough to be more selective about who we spend our time with. I think the news story that brought all of this rambling about families on is probably pretty obviously the tragedy of Mark Madoff's suicide on the anniversary of his father's arrest, but I sort of lost the nerve to write about it. For one thing, I don't want to read any more, it feels like a private tragedy for a family, the kind that shouldn't be headline news. For another, I can't judge any one in this story. Families are complicated and messy and maybe the one thing that unites all of humanity. I'm sure fathers are screwing up their kids in Afghanistan and Portugal and Senegal and every other country on this planet, and the fierce love and protectiveness I feel for my own current family (blood and otherwise) is reflected in every human in every culture. We're all differently damaged by our families, of course, but I don't believe Tolstoy for a second that this is only true for the damage. Happy families are not all alike. Our happiness, the way we love one another, is surely as varied as our humanity. So I will not speak about the Madoff family, or any family, when it is only mine that I can begin to understand.

My family is simultaneously small and sprawling, the product of choice and circumstance and happy coincidence. They put up with me when I grumble too much about finals on Saturdays. I am grateful for them and for all of their quirks and complexity. And while I challenge myself to put aside my resentful feelings towards the people in my past, it is the people in my life presently that make me appreciative of where I have been and what I have experienced. Perhaps it has more to do with the inevitable reflection caused by the end of this year drawing closer, but I am certain that, however different you and I may be and however differently we may feel about the events that brought us to our current lives, we're both experiencing our own gratitude for the presence of those we love right now in a perfectly un-Tolstoy-like way. So I hope that in the coming weeks you, too, have time to enjoy (and, more than likely at times, suffer through) the presence of family without worrying about anything bigger than that.

Respectfully yours,



Please think about that Executive Order.

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