For the first time, perhaps in history, all my siblings were in their own homes on Christmas Eve. Though a combo of all six is now a rare occurrence, there are usually pairs or triplets together. This year, however, we all rolled solo, fully immersed in our own families. With my oldest sister departing for college when I was two, my Christmas memories are of the reunion – listening to the red vinyl Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas album while waiting for the “big kids” to get home. Eventually, college adventures kept the older ones away for the holiday and I remember particularly the year we all gathered around the TV on Christmas Eve to watch with amazement as our oldest sister received Communion from the Pope in Vatican City, a valid reason to take our family star from six points down to five. My own time abroad began a trend of scattered Christmases as I spent 2001 in England with my future husband’s family and we later enjoyed multiple holidays in Boulder with my oldest sister. We nearly made the complete half dozen at our Muskegon home in 2012, hosting 35 overnight guests, comprised of my own siblings, my husband’s, cousins, their families, and friends who were as such to us. Love truly does multiply, making for a moving target and rather challenging complete assembly.
As I saw pictures this year of my nearest sister, in Chicago with our own adult cousins, whom I have not seen in person in years, I wondered if that would be the case for our children – meetings every few years, only for major events. With my own move 3000 miles away from home, this could very likely be the case. We have not been a family of proximity for as long as I can remember, with members scattered across the country and half of the marriages of my siblings to citizens of foreign lands. We have, however, always stayed connected, with visits and chats, trips and adventures. Certainly easier when I was centrally located geographically, nestled between my brothers and sisters and within (a day’s) driving distance, even with the vast span of the United States between us, we have managed in-person visits at least annually. After a Thanksgiving in Minnesota complete with a half dozen of the next generation, I truly see the importance of this consistency.
We are planning for a summer gathering of all my siblings, the last of which served as the announcement for our cross-country move. It will be a milestone moment as we now have 10 cousins and will be seeing the second oldest graduating high school and entering a new phase of life. Bittersweet as we reunite with the elder generation represented now only by our mother and simultaneously welcome our newest member, not yet one year old. I look forward to the time en masse and in pockets of two or three, sharing laughter, time and, simply the in-person opportunity to share each other’s company.
Much like, and likely because of the long-distance nature of, my biological family, commitment to my family of friends has stood the tests of time and distance. Be it for birthdays, weddings, births, funerals, meetings, conferences, races, sunshine or simply because, reuniting with the sweet souls who have supported and shared in my life experience for the past twenty plus years has been a crucial part of my well-being. My greatest gift this year was designed months ago, opened in Michigan on Christmas morning and will be delivered locally just in time for my birthday. With an exceptional spirit of generosity, my dearest friend from medical school was surprised by her husband with a trip to visit me in Ashland – no easy feat with their dual (and often dueling) physician schedules and sweet daughters, all three under three. While we have shared brief gatherings during my return trips to Michigan, opportunity to spend days and nights, share my new home town and the time with their Tusha for my own three will be a truly special occasion. It is hard to believe fourteen years has passed since we were preparing for exams, reviewing scribes by the apartment pool, distracting ourselves with eggplant parmesan, marathons of our favorite TV shows and the ubiquitous sushi on Tuesdays. Friendship forged in, and subsequently strengthened by, the stresses of the time carried us through weddings and babies, personal losses and professional victories with travels together and to gather with our own families, now totaling ten. I will un-wrap this present of presence with tremendous gratitude, just in time for my next adventure around the sun.
For my birthday last year, I began a letter-writing challenge, aiming for composing and mailing a hand-written greeting once each day. It was an amazing experience for many reasons – reconnection, the joy of a return note and practicing patience, with a notable shift from the instantaneous response that comes with the e-mails and texts that are more often my medium of communication. I made it half the year, thwarted by the smoke season here when my daily walk to the post-office ended (I know I could have mailed them from home, but the stroll added to the allure). I hope to begin again this year, perhaps without the personally imposed daily mandate, but simply motivated by the opportunity for connection from afar. Having been on both ends of the experience, the energy of focus given to the composition of the card is carried across the miles and felt by the recipient with the opening of the envelope and reading of the text. Present across the miles, connected in words.
Locally, we enter the year with our new community at CrossFit Inconceivable – focused on best health along the path toward fitness with the launch of our Inconceivable Wellness programming. Drawing on my osteopathic training, considering the needs of body, mind and spirit, we are expanding beyond our workouts to discuss nutrition, sleep, stress, injury prevention and recovery, relationships and community connection. While all are important in the movement toward comprehensive wellness, I have seen in the few short months of running the gym that the latter is most important – it is truly the meeting space and common thread shared with fellow members that holds the most weight. This was reinforced in a recent study in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, relating the benefits of group exercise compared to solo and again for me today as I read Braving the Wilderness, the latest by Brené Brown and the first for our Book Club, noting that loneliness tops the charts as a health risk, increasing the odds of dying early by 45%, out-pacing even obesity (20%) and excessive alcohol consumption (30%). Our best health is found in community with others, a critical factor for our true well-being. To that end, near and far, in person or in prose, let 2018 be the year we cultivate connection, giving and receiving presence, the most vital and valuable present of all.