This afternoon, we hosted my family for Easter dinner. With my sister Julie tucked in safely in her new life in Connecticut, there were 9 of us, including my sister and her husband, my dad and his wife, and my mom. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would ever intentionally host a gathering with these guests invited at the same time, I would have laughed in your face. But time has a way of softening things or giving us enough distance from past mistakes to think that even questionable things might be wise choices.
The funny thing for me about sharing a meal with family is that it’s like having dinner surrounded by mirrors. Everyone at the table reflects something I am or do. I see myself everywhere I look. I see myself in the passionate way in which my father speaks, in the way my mother perpetually plays devil’s advocate, and in the way my sister sneaks in a comeback on the sly. Mostly what I see when I look at my family, though, is how we’re all struggling and we’re all trying. I see our common humanity. I recognize that we all have learned so much over the years, yet we have so far to go.
It got me to thinking about this Bunny Buddhism quote:
One must be kind, for every bunny is fighting a hard battle.
It’s easy to be hurt by members of our immediate family because they’re the ones we instinctively believe should never hurt us. Even when they do hurt us because they know our kryptonite, we often stick around because we’re invested. Sadly, it’s far too easy to be with family and inhale the negatives and fall into old patterns. Our communal bad habits creep in like skunk smell through car windows on the highway. Our family ties don’t so much bind us together as box us in. Our shared past becomes the basis for all current dealings, and with our common history comes baggage we can’t set down. Every mistake we’ve ever made, every misstep we’ve ever taken, has been cataloged and inventoried by these people. And we think we have each other figured out. We bring up past transgressions and trade them like stocks on the NASDAQ. None of this is good, helpful, or right.
So tonight as I sat with my family, when words felt hurtful or I wanted to judge, I tried to remember my bunny quote. I listened to what was going on behind the conversation. I paid more attention to the subtext. Every person on this planet is fighting their own battle. I have no idea what their journey looks like, and I can barely begin to imagine what they might need. What I can do is remind myself that we’re all battling a demon or twelve or twelve hundred. We’re all being the best bunny we can be in the moment. If we ask for more than this from each other, we’re asking too much. As I worked to set down the trunks of history between us, I heard an entirely different conversation than one I might have heard otherwise and I learned more about my family than I have in a long time.
To grow, we have to let go of our preconceived notions and open up to new possibilities. If I don’t want to repeat my history with these people, I need to give them room to be different. A caged bunny may be safe, but she’s not exactly free to experience exponential personal growth. Every bunny has a struggle. I don’t need to add to it. Perhaps if I free other bunnies from the cages of our shared history, my cage door will swing wide open too. The world could use more free range bunnies.