Chelle Summer


Turning the Holidays Around to about Others

Michelle Rusk

My mom worked hard to make sure we had great birthdays. While they were nothing compared to the over-the-top parties I see parents do for their children now, she invested a lot of time in making big signs that she hung in the kitchen and coordinating our birthday parties.

But what she couldn't control were the emotions of my dad whose unhappiness in life constantly enveloped our house and often ruined Thanksgiving because they would have an argument about something. And there were extended family get togethers on my mom's side where too much drinking too place. You know how it ends– even if you've never experienced one yourself, you've heard the stories from others. Everyone gets mad at everyone else. 

When I was married the first time, my then mother-in-law, visiting from Texas, once got up and left the dinner table right smack in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, my then father-in-law running after her out the door. To this day, I don't think we know what made her mad.

So holidays haven't always been the happiest occasions for me. Until I figured out how to make them about other people.

When Greg's entire family (all nine!) decided they wanted to spend Thanksgiving in Albuquerque with us this year, I was happy to cook because it meant I could create something for others and enjoy that process. I'll admit I was tired by the time ten days ended and the last of the family returned to the east coast. However, it was an uneventful holiday– there was no drama and everyone enjoyed the company of each other. What more could you ask for?

When my birthday rolls around next week, it'll be the same. I'll go to 12:10 pm mass to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe and then Greg and I will gather with a group of friends at a restaurant for dinner (tacos for all!) to celebrate not just my birthday but Guadalupe's feast day. 

I don't have the expectations I used to have of my birthdays and holidays. I try to think of something fun to do, something that will make me happy while in some way giving to others.

And that makes them happy and memorable days for us all.

Guadalupe and Me

Michelle Rusk

To be honest, a few weeks ago, I really wanted to skip my birthday. We had just put Chaco down, I was coming up on the anniversary of my dog Daisy's death seven years ago (or was it eight? I can never remember), and while I have a great life, my holidays aren't the same without my parents and my younger sister. Denise and I had all sorts of things we did at Christmas as kids: finding the gifts early (my Barbies had to know they were getting a new bathtub, I reasoned) and putting on "Christmas Shows" with our Barbies and Raggedy Anns. And Christmas will be followed by the anniversary of my dad's death and then the first anniversary of my dog Gidget dying. The losses don't seem to end in my life and no matter how far forward I go, they are there somewhere, stamped in my memory.

This is combined with the fact that I'm working to understand how much time has gone by. Chaco was with me almost fourteen years and a part of me can't believe that fourteen years have passed. Yes, I spent them living and a lot happened and a lot of great things and people are in my life now. But I have to do some processing to get there.

And yet as the day drew closer, something tugged at me: the reminder that my birthday falls on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I find myself writing about this every year because until I moved to New Mexico, I had no idea who she was. My first birthday here I went to mass at noon and it was all about her although it would be another fifteen or so years before I would truly realize how lucky I am to share a day with her.

On Thursday before mass for the Immaculate Conception, I lit a candle for her, the same place where Greg and I left flowers at our wedding during the "Ave Maria." For the past year I have been working with a priest at the monastery here, a Norbertine Community, meeting monthly to help me draw closer to God. And really for me, it's about hearing the messages because I tend to talk too much in prayer (yes, it is possible!). 

As I stood there in prayer on Thursday and then as my friend Alicia and I left mass, a man was handing out Our Lady of Guadalupe novenas. When I told him my birthday fell on her feast day, he said, "You're special!"

On Saturday we had our mass at church to celebrate her day and the Immaculate Conception (the church's feast day) and Greg and I were asked to bring up the gifts. We had been asked recently so I didn't expect it– we get asked about once a month– but the usher looked desperate. And my friend Alicia gave me a rosary with Guadalupe on it and a book about Guadalupe in New Mexico. Everything was pushing me toward her and this day.

And so on this birthday as I write this (it's the afternoon of the 12th), I have enjoyed all the messages from people, but I find myself drawing inward with some work to do for the year ahead. At mass at noon, I again lit a candle and asked her in prayer that I spend the year getting to know her better, drawing closer. 

I think I know how this will pan out. Now to see next year what my birthday blog brings. In the meantime, here I go.