It’s easy to express gratitude for someone who has done something kind for you, or whose work you admire. We might not do it often enough, but in a sense, we are obligated to be grateful for such things. It is far harder to be grateful for things we didn’t want to happen or to people who have hurt us. But there were benefits hidden in these situations and these interactions too. And if there wasn’t, even if the situations were unconscionably and irredeemably bad there is always some bit of us that knows that we can be grateful that at least it wasn’t even worse.
— Ryan Holiday
I’m sitting here this Christmas Eve in my La-Z-Boy recliner listening to the Mormon Tabernacle sing Christmas songs. Alone. It’s been rather strange like a lot of the Christmas Eves I’ve spent in Kelowna. Tonight, Kylie is with her mom, as she is every other year. It’s quiet. Part of the evening has been spent tidying the house and scrolling through social media to see how others are spending their holidays.
Growing up, Christmas Eve was usually spent at church, last minute gift wrapping afterwards, and then a late dinner before heading to bed. When I was in University, it was Christmas Eve services at Knox Metropolitan Church with my grandma and visiting family members, late night visiting and catching up. Looking back, those evenings always seemed busy, but at the same time rather peaceful. I always felt rested when I woke up Christmas morning. Admittedly, I don’t recall how well I slept as a young kid. I don’t sleep very well now when I’m anticipating something to happen the next day, so I think those nights were rather sleepless.
The Christmas when I first moved to Kelowna was a very different experience altogether. Kylie’s mother was expecting and her due date was right around Christmas time. My family travelled to Regina to be with my grandma and my sister. There was no way I could travel to be there and be away so it was me and Kylie’s mom in our small basement suite (a former chicken coop, a detail that will never be forgotten). Christmas Eve was half spent preparing for the arrival of the baby (how fitting!) I also spent preparing for cooking the Christmas Day turkey for Kylie’s mother’s family.
A quick aside: I had never, ever cooked a turkey before. I don’t remember helping with it as a teenager or in University. It seemed like magic- open gifts, and then eat turkey in the afternoon. On top of that, I had only met those family members a few times. When I was volunteered to prepare the turkey, I took on the challenge. I ordered an organic, grass-fed turkey from a health food store, bought everything else I needed, and then talked to my parents to get instructions on how to go about it. Christmas morning was a gong-show for numerous reasons. The result is all that matters though: turkey was cooked, turkey was eaten, turkey was enjoyed. No baby, however.
The next Christmas was the first with a new baby (nearly a year old), in a fairly new condo, and a little more traditional setup. I don’t think I had to prepare the turkey that time since I did it on Thanksgiving, so it was likely a much more low key night and day than the year prior. The following one was the first weird Christmas for me. Christmas was celebrated in my parents’ new condo after they had moved to Kelowna. I was in my new place too after separating from Kylie’s mom. That meant it was the first Christmas where Kylie spent half the day with me, then the other half with her mom. It was incredibly tough for me to take her over to her great-grandma’s and leave without her. She wasn’t yet two years old and she didn’t like it either.
The following seven years have had a similar pattern. Kylie is with one parent for Christmas Eve and the morning, then goes to the other household for the afternoon. Some years, I’ve had family visiting, others not. That has left me with plenty of time on one or both of the evenings to spend time to myself. Tonight, I was starting to feel a bit sorry for myself when I saw the social media posts of other families gathering, couples sharing moments, or friends getting together, and decided to turn to the stoicism readings to find something to help ground me.
…there is always some bit of us that knows that we can be grateful that at least it wasn’t even worse
It was the last line that stood out for me in the quote I first shared. I am here alone tonight, yes, but it doesn’t have to mean I am lonely, and things could definitely be worse. The turkey may not have gone to plan, but I should have been grateful that I had the choice to prepare and eat the turkey. I may not like that my daughter splits Christmas with the households, but at the same time, I can be grateful that she does get to see both sides of the family on Christmas Day, because not all kids have that opportunity. The hardest part is learning to be grateful that my ex did choose to leave me when she did rather than going through years of an unhappy relationship/marriage for the sake of our daughter. It has allowed me more freedom to explore my life than I normally would have been able to with her.
There are going to be many happy memories created today in my family with my sister visiting Kelowna with her husband and two nephews, the latest addition to the family celebrating his first Christmas with my brother and his wife in Spain, and another Christmas spent with my daughter and my parents. There will also be moments of disappointment today. When they happen, I’ll think back to that quote and remember it could always be worse.
On this day that we come together to celebrate hope, peace, joy, and love, let us also remember to be grateful.