I spent an hour of my first newly married Thanksgiving fighting about the proper way to roast garlic. In a revelation that will blindside you, the guy who spent the better part of his single years eating at Chipotle and drinking beer was wrong. Who would’ve guessed? Apparently not me. Throw handfuls of garlic into the open oven! Let it burn I say! Garlic mashed potatoes be damned!
I joke about this now, but the holidays seem to add an extra weight of hyper-relevance to otherwise mundane experiences. If I had a long string of fantastic Thanksgivings with my family growing up, my unspoken expectation is that it will always continue and that my spouse will participate in making it so. No pressure dear, you just have to live up to all of the collective delight of all of my best Thanksgivings while working through your first year as a professor. I can’t see how that might run amiss.
A Thanksgiving that includes garlic arguments is therefore a less rich and fruitful time since I wasn’t involved in food prep when I was, say ten and more invested in the Christmas present guessing department. So the expectation itself is bullshit founded on a past that is not now.
It isn’t the stupid argument that was actually the hard part, it was getting over the shame that comes with being a flawed human being trying to live in a new space for the first time. You realize how stupid an argument is while participating in it which makes the overall experience worse for both parties. Garlic? We are really honestly and aggressively discussing garlic? Since when was I ever this invested in cooking? I don’t even heat up leftovers.
A touch of nuanced rationality works in theory more than in practice. Which is why I speculate that the holidays are so difficult. What was amazing when you were young will not always be the same brand of amazing. If you insist on having an experience from a different phase of life for long enough eventually you will only have semi-shitty faded experiences that continue to fade. Tis’ the season for unmet expectations tra-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
To paint a garlic argument in tones of “So what?” takes time, then getting to a “So what?” that isn’t a “I hate you and I hope you die.” So what?” takes time and self-awareness. To be with people who behave like people do (rationality is less a factor than we ever imagine) should consistently be dissolving the need to be “right” about things. The broader the range of people that are accommodated the more difficult it is to maintain illusions. Most assholes are people who haven’t had friends or family to tell them what everybody else has been too polite or too distanced to say.
This is the flip-side of being loved honestly in spite of failings. Those you love deeply will reflect back at you the person that you actually are, warts and all. Being loved in a open and direct way can break off the sharper edges facing outwards. To lose an edge feels like death. The surprise comes when we realize that the sharp edges were facing inwards as well. The injury that hurts you will reach out and injure someone nearby. It takes either courage, insanity, or a “generous negligence” with the self to allow love to reveal the darker realms of the heart. Incidentally or unfortunately this is also the only kind of love that feels even remotely nourishing despite it’s difficulty.
A love that comes into conflict with another is a love that has encountered a reality and will starve on a diet of illusions (you can’t survive on ice cream). To love is to be seen. How do I cope with being looked upon when stripped of the identities that I have spent so much time curating? A question of loving another is always a question of how much I love myself. Love thy neighbor as you love yourself is an impossible command that points towards an unavoidable truth. To live towards your neighbor will result in the loss of neat conclusions and easy stereotypes, these are the same conclusions and stereotypes that frame and structure my entire worldview. If you knock down too many supports the whole thing goes kaput. Maybe collapse is part of the point. The unwillful resignation of a individually sufficient self seems to be a repeating theme. I’m not sure how often I willfully resign myself for the sake of another, but it is funny how often exhaustion or frustration seem to lead to a pair of tired open hands and a confession of not being enough or being too much when I should have been less.
To put down my burden of self-sufficiency should simultaneously be relieving others of the burdens that I have placed upon them to fix the unfixable or resolve the unresolvable for me. If I can’t confess that I don’t know how to properly roast garlic without being a dick, maybe there is a lack of mercy or grace that can only enter in to the awareness of a desperate need for both mercy and grace an everyday scale.