During Christmas with my family this year, my wife and I were placed in a room downstairs, next to the kitchen (in a family that likes to cook and eat), on a decrepit, pull-out bed, that was at least a foot shorter than my body. Worse, I arrived at seven in the evening after working all day, on the end of a full work week. In short, I was tired, even exhausted, and as glad as I was to be there, what I really needed was a good night’s sleep—a full eight hours. Hell, I would’ve taken six or seven.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, trying desperately to get some shut eye on a decent bed after breakfast the next morning, I was thwarted by thin walls, and a loud, albeit happy family. After a little over an hour, I blew up. I absolutely lost my shit. I stormed out of bed, stomped on the floors, and screamed at everyone downstairs that “they couldn’t have possibly made more noise if they’d tried!” I said some other things too. My family wilted before my eyes, and as soon as it was over, I felt terrible.
Did I have a right to be upset? Sure. Was it a shitty situation? Yep. But at the end of the day, the people that I took it out on were just that: people. They were happy, chattering, loud, boisterous, wonderful people. They didn’t know that I had only gotten ten hours of sleep in the last two nights prior to my arrival, and they certainly didn’t know just how badly I’d slept the night before my blow up. They were happy, good, noisy, oblivious people—and I treated them terribly.
So why, dear reader, am I telling you this? Because the story illustrates some basic points about human beings that we too often forget. The first is that people are people, and they come with varying mixtures of virtues and flaws. No one is perfect, and all of us—even the most compassionate—see things through our own eyes, and experience the world in our own way.
Immediately after my tirade, I felt embarrassed, foolish, and ashamed of myself. In a single moment of irrational fury, the house went from a bubbling, joyous celebration, to nervous, tension filled silence. All because of my selfish pre-occupation with being tired, and my failure to see that my family’s noisy din was not some grand conspiracy to screw me over, but rather the simple fact of family—people—being happy to be together.
And so it is that we, as individuals, see the world through our own, jaded eyes, and because of circumstance and coincidence, it can often seem as though forces beyond our control are allied against us. This may sound silly, but if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s something we see everyday, both with ourselves and those around us. We have good days and bad days—everyone does—but perhaps we should remember that our bad days are not spawned because people are inherently evil, or because fortune has turned against us. It’s because people are people, with all of their flaws and virtues—and that means that sometimes bad things happen to good people, and that sometimes good people do bad things.
Indeed, WE ALL DO BAD THINGS. Even the best of us. No one is perfect, or without flaw, and this is something, it seems to me, that our society has generally forgotten. How often in the stories of our friends, family, and co-workers, do we hear their part in dysfunction? Isn’t it much more common to hear that there was some actor, or group, that was at fault—some seed of evil, malice, or incompetence with which they had to contend? Couldn’t I, after all, have blamed my blow up on my family’s choice to put me on a tiny fold out mattress, or their inconsiderate noisemaking while I was trying to sleep? This phenomenon, this attitude of vain perfection that is all too common in our society, must go, and ironically, the most popular religion in this country provides the tools to escape it.
So what did I do after my temper tantrum at Christmas? I apologized. I asked for forgiveness. I admitted that I was wrong, that I had acted like an asshole, and I said I was sorry. By their grace, most of my family members accepted it, and Christmas went on as joyously as before. It wasn’t easy or fun to apologize, to admit that I was wrong, nor has it been easy to publicly declare that I behaved like a spoiled brat to everyone who cares to read this blog. But the absolution is well worth it. You see, it’s actually a hell of a lot easier knowing that I can live my life truthfully and honestly, if not always humbly, than to carry around the burden of vain perfection with which so many people are saddled.
And in a country where a large majority of people call Christianity their faith, there are two things we ought to remember as we welcome in a 2013—whether you consider yourself a Christian or not.
The first is that none of us are perfect. We are all sinners, we are all flawed, and one of the things Christ calls us to do is to simply admit that this is so; to ask for forgiveness of our sins—the mistakes, the errors, and the wrongs we commit in this life. Spiritual or not, this recognition is fundamental to living an actualized life. Without the admission of imperfection, life is a tremendous burden of arrogance and delusion, a mixture that poisons and stifles those who cannot accept their flaws, but choose instead to blame them on others.
Second, we must understand that to be forgiven, we must be able to forgive. Everyone reading this blog has at one time been wronged by another human being; the question is, can we forgive them of their wrong, whether they ask it or not? The honest truth is that we must, and in some ways, giving forgiveness is harder than asking for it. It’s hard to give absolution to someone that has hurt us—it’s painful to tell them that what they’ve done is forgiven. But it’s crucial, not just because everyone of us will require forgiveness in the future, but also because we cannot move forward without it. Without granting forgiveness to those who’ve committed wrongs, we carry those wrongs with us as excuses for malice and destructive behavior, and they eat at us like sores that won’t heal, becoming incurable and mentally crippling cancers. All one needs do is watch a few episodes of “Real Housewives”, or any other reality show, to see that this is true.
Truly, this is the most basic gift of the Christian religion—that we may both seek and grant forgiveness, and in so doing ease the suffering caused by human imperfection. Whether one believes in the spiritual and/or faith based aspects or not, these tools are available for anyone who is both brave and humble enough to use them.
And that Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about.