Saturday, December 31, 2011


A lot of people seem to think American Beauty was a wonderful movie. I hated it. To me, it's about a man who quits his job, neglects his family, and spends his time lusting after a friend of his teenage daughter. Meanwhile, his wife brings in the family income, takes care of the kids, prepares the meals, and takes care of the house and yard. And, the movie portrays her negatively for being uptight and glorifies her husband for being such a free spirit.

Spending time with my family over the holidays, I was reminded of this movie. No, things in my family are nowhere near as bad as they are in the movie. I just felt that some people were working for the welfare of the family, while others were not considerate of the efforts being made.

It started weeks before, as I planned my travel dates. I tried to find out everyone's schedules, and plan travel dates that would allow me to see everyone. Once I made my plan, I notified my relatives, so that those who still had not formed their plans could plan accordingly. Then, weeks after I had made my plan, my brother informed me that he and his family would be visiting my mother's house on a day that did not coincide with my plans. I had to re-work my plans, and after considering the alternatives, chose to cut short my visit with my father, because it was the least bad of the alternatives.

My brother and his family said that they would be at my mother's place from supper on one day through supper on the following day. My mother and stepfather planned menus and bought groceries to accommodate this plan. Then, at lunch on the second day, my brother and sister-in-law announced that they did not plan to stay for supper after all. It made me mad that my mother and stepfather, who don't have a lot of money, had gone to the trouble of buying food for a meal, and then my brother and sister-in-law decided they were not going to show up for that meal.

The lunch on the second day was our big meal, our Christmas dinner. Usually at my mom's house, we don't have sweets. Sometimes my sister-in-law tries to avoid sweets, but other times she enjoys them. A few weeks in advance of the Christmas dinner, my mother asked my sister-in-law whether or not they should get dessert for the Christmas dinner. My sister-in-law said yes, so my stepfather bought pies. Then, on the evening in the first supper, my sister-in-law mentioned that she did not want any dessert for Christmas dinner.

What bothers me is that my mother and stepfather went out of their way to accommodate the family, and those efforts were trampled on. I feel I am often in the same position. I feel like I'm always looking out for other people -- my family, my friends, and the people I serve in my job. I look out for them, and they take what they want and then leave me behind. I had a friend once who always wanted to spend time with me when I had a car and he didn't. Then he got a car and a girlfriend, and suddenly he wanted nothing to do with me, and alleged that it was all because of my own flaws that he wanted nothing to do with me.

I stayed an extra day at my mother's house in order to see my brother and his family. After they left, I went to my father's house. As I prepared to stay overnight at my father's house, I found that I seemed to be allergic to the blanket I had been planning to use. I got a different blanket, and that one seemed to be okay. However, my father told me all the places I could look for blankets, jackets, etc., in case I should wake up in the night and find I was allergic to this blanket after all.

After all the energy I invest in looking out for other people, someone was looking after me. It was like after tightening my coat against the cold, I could bask in sunlight. And it was not only that it was that I was being looked after. It was that I had a partner, someone who shares my belief that looking after people is the thing to do.

There is some emphasis in our culture on being assertive, standing up for yourself, not being taken advantage of. There are people who think that if I feel I am helping others but others are not giving back, that's a sign that I should be more assertive. But for me, standing up for myself means standing up against those who tell me I should stop helping others. I will not stop looking after other people because other people tell me I ought to. Instead, I seek to build a community where everyone looks after each other. I will look after people, but I will focus that energy on people who are trying to build the same kind of community I'm trying to build.

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