She asked me to dump the turkey carcass into the green can. The clippings can. The one for grass, weeds, branches, etc.
“Are you serious?” I said.
She smiled and said, “Yes, why?”
“Why would you put the turkey into the clippings can?”
“Because it’s organic; I do it every year.”
I thought about it for a minute. I didn’t think that was right and would swear that if the trash collectors caught it, they’d tag her can. A tag that read something like This is a notice of non-collection because your can is contaminated.
“You all right? You need me to walk you through it?” she said.
Now she was just being a smart ass and trying to be funny.
“No, I’ll go do it.”
And I did. I dumped the carcass out of the plastic bag it was in and on top of the branches and grass before. I stared down into the can and thought, There’s no friggin’ way they’re taking this.
“They’re going to tag your can,” I said when I came back in the house.
“No, they are not. I told you I do it every year. You going to be okay?” Again, my sister shared her cute snark. She leaned in to give me a fake supportive hug and I moved away.
“Ha. I’m good, they’re just not going to take it,” I said, smiling.
“Yes, they will. It’s just turkey bones. You can put those down your garbage disposal.”
I laughed. God, you really sound like Dad, I thought. That would break the garbage disposal.
A while later, the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife), looked it up online and sure enough, you don’t put turkey carcasses into your clippings can. Even my sister’s son, my nephew back from his second year in law school, agreed.
“So,” my sister said to me, “go dig it out then.”
“I ain’t digging anything out,” I said.
We laughed. It was funny. And I still thought her can was going to get tagged.
A day later we packed up our things and headed home. It was another very nice Thanksgiving with my sister and her grown children. We also got to visit with my newborn Great Niece, my niece’s baby girl, and she was such a delight. The newest member of our extended family, today.
We’ve been going to my sister’s for Thanksgiving the past five years now, starting the year after both our parents passed away. It’s very important to my sister and I and our families, even if we only see each a few times per year. Since we were children and for most of our lives, we've been very close.
The year our parents died was a rough year for us all, my mom leaving us four months after my dad due to a health complication we knew nothing about until it was too late. And then there was the in-between time before she passed that went okay until it didn’t when my mom stayed with my sister, before we had taken her in and then I returned her back to Oregon. And then there was the six years before that when my sister and I didn’t speak at all. Plus, the way before then of violence and abuse, and the since then of other extended family relationship ups and downs.
Both the Mama and I have the loving memories of big family gatherings during the end-of-year holidays and multiple times throughout the year (even daily when we lived near each other). But then, family fell away and moved away, new family was added and old family taken away. Maybe we see each other a few times per year, if that. (The women in my life have always done a much better job at keeping in touch with extended family than I have.)
Trust and empathy are vital to nurturing any relationship, as well as the reciprocal investment of communication and time. And yet over time, life happens, we fail each other, and even the seemingly best intentions can and do tear at the fine family fabric. We’re hurt. We resent. We retaliate. We cut off. The friend in family is lost. Sometimes forever.
The Mama and I have been listening to Dr. Brené Brown of late, a research professor who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. In Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice, Brené Brown shared a conversation about forgiveness she had with a rabbi. She’d been doing research about forgiveness, and the rabbi told her that true forgiveness can only transpire when something else dies. Not literally a person or thing, but a manifestation of something, letting go of resentment for example. Literally letting it die.
This is the first year in my grateful long life to date that I've accepted I can no longer hold onto any resentment for being hurt. That I can no longer beat myself up for my own past transgressions, or that I can keep judging others because I don’t feel they’re being their best selves (because maybe they are), or because there are those who I don’t see eye to eye with (because sometimes we don’t). I just can’t do it anymore. I've really needed to let those things die. It doesn’t serve a work-in-progress healthy heart and spirit at all, and it doesn’t help me to be a better parent or husband or human. There are so many more benefits to channeling my energy into me being my better self and sharing that with others. God knows it's taken long enough to get here.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t boundaries on how I handle any relationship going forward post whatever traumatic event, and what I want our children to understand about betrayal, heartbreak, personal responsibility and forgiveness. Forgiveness is a feral animal, one that is unpredictable and not easy to tame, even when you feel like it’s ready to give itself up to you, and for you. And forgiveness doesn’t mean that all what ailed a relationship makes the relationship whole again. It just means all what ailed it is finally dead.
Trust and empathy take time to build and rebuild, and a lot of continuous reciprocity to sustain, but without forgiveness, there can be no friend in family.