If you could make a wish and that wish would be guaranteed to come true, what would you wish for? People often say they’d buy a house or pay off their mortgage or take a dream vacation or even pay off the mortgages of the people they care about. What if that wish was more than just monetary? I know the world revolves around money—those who have it, spend it, those who don’t have it, wish they had it. But dreams are often so much bigger than what money can ever buy. Sure, a paid-for home is a security very few people truly have (when we balance homeowners around the world) and dream vacations are wonderful experiences with memories that last a lifetime but what about making a wish that lasted forever instead of for now?
As an introvert, I am a keen observer and my life has been spent watching, listening, hearing, empathising, caring and sometimes I’ve even caught myself staring. People frustrate and fascinate me in equal measure. People are, in general, simply going about their days doing the best they can for each day they have—whether the best they can is to climb Mount Everest that day or the best they can is to muster up enough energy to pick up the remote control and watch ‘My 600-lb Life’ all afternoon. Every human being had a beginning and are living in the middle and wondering, worrying or planning their end. Nobody knows for sure when they’re going to cease to exist—even top-notch medical diagnoses can’t predict the day or the moment when a person leaves the world as they know it.
Dying wishes are always referred to—an edict for that person’s entire existence—the one thing they would have done if they’d only known they’d never have the chance to do it again. Family members and loved ones sometimes bend over backwards to fulfill the dying person’s wish, even after they’ve long gone. It’s a way of giving that person the one thing that seemed to mean more to them than anything else—but did it mean enough to them when they were living to actively pursue that one thing? It makes me wonder.
Recently, my uncle died after months of hospitalisation and while my aunt and my cousins and his grandchildren knew he was leaving them, they couldn’t know when. What day he would decide to slip away from them forever. When we’d first learned that he’d been admitted to hospital, we went to see him—my parents and I. My aunt was there, my cousin (his daughter) and a while later, another aunt and another cousin showed up. That was the last time I saw him because his wishes were that nobody but his wife, children and grandchildren should be with him. They were his wishes and, like it or not, we had to accept that those were his wishes, no matter how it affected us or made us feel. Many in our family did not get an opportunity to say goodbye to him and he, in turn, did not get the opportunity to say goodbye to them either.
It got me thinking—whatever my uncle’s motivation was for spending his last months away from the swell of our extended family, the fact was that it was his wish and, as far as I know, everyone respected that wish. He was dying and so we respected his wishes. Why is it not that way for those of us who are living?
Through my life I’ve really struggled with the social dynamics that are constantly surrounding me. I grew up as a member of a large extended family and while I enjoyed playing with my cousins as a child and even spending time with them when I was a teenager, I found the socialising draining and felt like I needed a long period to recharge afterwards. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the interactions and the games and conversation; I thoroughly enjoyed them; however they were an effort for me rather than a simple ‘visit’ like it seemed to me it was for them. Christmas was a whirlwind of family get-togethers and even friend get-togethers when I was a child. We would have a big family gift exchange at my grandparents’ house and we would get together at the house of the parents of my mother’s high school friend and we would spend Christmas dinner with my other grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins and we would make a Boxing Day visit to my dad’s high school friend and his wife and whatever other get-togethers cropped up through the years. As I became an adult there were work parties and get-togethers with friends and all kinds of gatherings which, while I enjoyed myself, I began to really dread as the years went by. The parties and noise and merriment were overwhelming and not something I found myself enjoying so much.
In the sanctity of my own apartment I would steel myself for months knowing that the holiday season was approaching—as soon as the summer was over I would start to feel a panic creeping slowly up on me. I would immediately launch into the card making and gift-buying, taking everybody on my list into consideration as I carefully chose something I felt they would truly enjoy. I would wrap them up, address the cards, put the stamps on the ones I wouldn’t be seeing in person and, before the end of October, I would simply wait. I would wait and the stress would build and I would distract myself by reading a good book or going out in the cooler weather to photograph the changing leaves or the frosty patterns of fallen leaves or bare branches and I would try not to focus too much on the month that gave me so much stress and anxiety. Normally, I would find an excuse not to attend whatever work get-together had been planned but trying to find a way out of the family gatherings and especially Christmas day itself was always a lot more difficult—feelings were on the line. Not my feelings—if I could find a way to duck out of the whole season entirely without hurting anybody else, I’d be over the moon with giddiness and joy—but I never found a way to do that.
This past year, my wife and I decided that trying to keep others happy was making us miserable and, while my wife enjoys Christmas, the stress of obligation had been wearing on her for years—first with her own family and then with my family. Like me, it had nothing to do with enjoying family members’ company or interacting with them—she gets on with them very well—it’s the break in a Christmas that is what we want it to be rather than what everyone wants it to be for us. In June last year, we booked ourselves a bed and breakfast far away from where we live and from anyone we knew. We agreed not to buy each other gifts and just to go away and be content in our own company, drinking in the peace and the lack of festivities that we both found so draining. We opted to fulfill our own wish rather than everyone else’s. We begged out of the big family get-together and despite initially accepting a dinner invite from another family member for a week prior to Christmas, we opted to renege on that one as well, simply because it was more than I was able to cope with (there have been a number of very stressful things going on for me and my solitude was paramount in getting through them prior to heading out of town for a relaxing Christmas). I wanted to enjoy my getaway, not feel rushed or obligated or over-stressed or overwhelmed by what I had been going through already. It has taken me nearly half a century to focus on me and what I want this time of year—and hopefully it encourages other people to accept that Christmas means something different to me than it does to them. I’ve done it ‘their way’ for so many years and from now on, I’m going to do it my way.
Our Christmas was pure magic and the quietest one I’d ever experienced. It was perfect.
My wish (my living wish, if you will) would be that the people who know me and who say that they care about me to accept that what matters to me is just as important as what matters to them. I would love it if people would stop arguing with me about how I feel or about what I want or putting their values on me as though it fits me like it fits them. I’m not perfect—I too have placed my own expectations on others despite those expectations not being realistic for those particular individuals. I’ve learned to back off and to back down and give the benefit of the doubt and I always approach people with the very best of intentions and with my heart in my throat. I am not malicious or two-faced in my heart; I am generous and giving and as kind as I can be, no matter how other people choose to accept this of (or from) me.
When others are struggling, I do what I can to empathise and even to help; when people are dismissive and belittling, I do what I can to distance myself from their negativity. While the holiday season is the time of year I find the most difficult, I do find myself having to say ‘no’ more often than I want to throughout the rest of the year as well. It isn’t that I don’t value the fact that you thought of me or that you want to spend time with me—I am flattered and I am grateful that I matter to you. It is the fact that, at times, there are events and occurrences going on in my life that take more out of me than I know how to deal with sometimes and when I am experiencing those moments and those times, I am not going to make good company. I will not be a good conversationalist; I will not give to you what it is you are seeking from me in those moments. My wish is that the people in my life who care about me will recognise that it is okay and it is acceptable for me to set the boundaries around myself which I need to. I do not set boundaries for myself to hurt others nor to alienate them, nor to offend them. I set those boundaries because I am unable to function within someone else’s.
This is my living wish.