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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Holidays, Wish Lists, and the Bonds of Family*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
November 25, 2010
as "Thanks for What Really Matters"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Thanksgiving has rolled into our lives.  Right behind, Christmas approaches like a runaway truck.  This time of year, the days fly past.  The hours are filled by so much to do, so many plans to make, so many thoughts to think.

It still seems so weird to begin to think about Christmas already.  But this was a pattern established in our family when some of us have been overseas at different times, so the process of acquiring gifts and shipping them had to be done early.  Plus, these days looming just beyond Thanksgiving dinner, football, and the tryptophan coma is the shopping madness of Black Friday.

The email inbox is filling up with the lists containing the desires of kids, spouses, in-laws, and grandkids.  The lists are simpler this year, everyone mindful that my wife was laid off recently.

Believe it or not, we saw this coming a year ago.  We prepared by eliminating debt and simplifying our lives.  Because of that, the layoff hasn’t been the disaster it could have been.  We’re not destitute, mind you; but Christmas will be more limited this time around.  In addition, Cheryl has already been shopping for some time, and the gift lists are already partially filled.  A big part of the fun of shopping is how much I look forward to those smiles and shouts on Christmas morning.  We’ll probably spend too much.  Warm hearts and cold budgets rarely co-exist, but that’s what January’s for: Financial repentance. 

My wife asked me recently what I wanted for Christmas.  I asked her too, but what I got was her typical heartfelt sigh and shrug.  She knows what she wants, but thinks we can’t afford what she desires.  And richly deserves. 

For the last few years, I’ve just asked for Barnes & Noble gift cards.  I’ve accumulated a number of additions to my library.  But I think I should wait until I’ve read them all before going back. 

This year, I find myself in an odd position of not knowing what I want.  I could shower some additional gew-gaws on my motorcycle, but I’m not sure if I want to do that.  Several years ago, my kids banded together and got me a 4-gig iPod.  At the time, I never thought I’d fill it up, but I have.  There are iPods with 160 gigs of memory, But they’re expensive, and I’m reluctant to have my loved ones spend on me, given the difficult times in which we all live. 

My only unfulfilled desires involve travel; another long motorcycle trip out west, and a pilgrimage to my family’s ancestral homes of France and Northern Ireland, and a similar trip to Japan for Cheryl. Those things you can’t really put in a box and wrap.  Besides, I’m not real keen on air travel at the moment, given the recent horror stories coming out of security checkpoints. 

I’ve begun to feel that maybe I don’t really need anything this year, however sacrilegious that may sound. 

But there is one thing that has been on my mind.

I love my family.  Given our wide geographic footprint, it’s not realistic to try to get everyone together in the same place at the same time.  It’s expensive, and the sheer number involved makes living space problematic.  But the one thing I miss most of all is just being together. 

Last April, we gathered for the funeral of our infant granddaughter in California.  It was a very sad time.  But leavening that grief was the healing power of a family reunited.  For a few precious days, we stood together, cried together, and even found a few laughs.  In the months since, I have realized how special that moment was; and how rare such moments will be in the future. 

There is one gift I want the most, the one most meaningful.  And that’s one more day, or even a few hours with our whole family together in one place, sharing joy and laughter; awash in love.

People share all manner of connections, business and personal; passing and permanent.  But the most powerful we will ever have are the unbreakable bonds between people who share a place, a story, and a name.

We call it “family.”
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