Friday, November 21, 2014

Thanksgiving Cheer

I originally wrote this post as an open letter to my Meeting, Friends Meeting of Washington, DC. In it, I reflect upon the romantic notion of a perfect Thanksgiving and the way it often turns out instead. __________

Dear Friends,

Thanksgiving means warm thoughts of togetherness and familial bliss to many of us. Yet, for some of us, it is a perpetually colossal and consistent letdown, full of needless drama and hostility. I can say with honesty that both the rosy and the sour versions are the case for me. My nuclear family and I, comprised of my two sisters and both parents, come together once a year to share a meal and each other's company. Genuine warmth exists between each of us and we have a lively conversation around the dinner table.

Should I speak about my mother's dysfunctional family, my feelings turn a full 180 degrees. Thanksgiving dinner with two warring uncles, both alcoholics, turns dinner conversation into a verbal feud unlikely to ever resolve itself. Even as a small child, I sensed first a silent tension that usually erupted quickly into caustic commentary between those seated once the first wine bottle was uncorked.

My uncles have mental illnesses they never treat. Instead, they self-medicate with alcohol. Products of the hyper-masculine decade of the 1950's, they believe that seeking help, even for a significant problem, is indicative of weakness and personal failing.

On a positive note, Thanksgiving means something else very important to me. It signifies six years in your company. November of 2008 was the first time I visited Friends Meeting of Washington. Two years before that, I encountered a Quaker meeting for the first time, and fell in love with our faith so completely that I formally joined a mere four months after my first visit. I have never regretted my decision.

You have become my family and my faith community. I have become emotionally invested in each of you. I sense Divine purpose in my work within FMW and have never once believed that this wasn't the right place for me. God wants me here and I have learned not to deviate from his plan for my life. I may not know all the answers, but I know enough to satisfy me.

While on the subject of mental illness, I've meant to share a particular phobia of mine for a while. When considering the shortcomings and mental health issues of my relatives, I am reminded of my own. I could have only told my worries to specialized committees like Personal Aid or Healing and Reconciliation, but, for my own sake, I want instead to share my fears in a public forum like this.

The worry that keeps me up at night is that I, a manic depressive, might enter a manic episode while in your company. Should that happen, I would hope that you could separate who I am from my illness. Sometimes I know that it isn't easy. But neither is it easy to see that of God in everyone.

Depression, I have learned the hard way, isolates one from the rest of the world and provides problems mostly for oneself. Mania quickly become a serious issue for everyone. Should my behavior become erratic, I hope you will correctly know its source and respond accordingly. I don't expect to have one, but I can never say with certainty that I won't.

I haven't had a manic episode since six months before I moved here. I spent three weeks in the hospital recovering, and when I was discharged, I had some wounded pride to take care of after I returned to health. It was a transformative event for me. I felt I had burned so many bridges where I lived at the time that I needed to radically reshuffle my life and my priorities. This is what led me to take a job in DC and to settle here for good.

If George Fox, our founder, suffered from the same medical condition as me, I delight that the both of us eventually found reason to be cheerful and to set our wanderings aside. And in the meantime, I hope we will find ways to bring joy and cheer to the lives of other people, seeing them as they are, underneath the bluster, broken.

No comments: