Well, once again, the holidays are with us. And with the holidays come the inevitable  gathering of the tribes to reflect on what the past year has been like.  When I reflect on what I wanted and what I actually have, I’m not surprised when a song by The Talking Heads* begins to play over and over in my head: 
You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife 
And you may ask yourself
Well, how did I get here?
Then I start to go down the checklist.  Let’s see:  
Shotgun shack?  No, a one bedroom apartment is the best I can do there.  The car thing?  Never owned anything bigger than a Corolla.  Another part of the world?  Did that. Great for my perspective.  Beautiful House?  Beautiful Wife?  You’re kidding?  Right?
Holidays, for me, are always a challenging time in that I get to learn, once again, how NOT to compare myself to my brothers and cousins and how NOT to take the bait for being the “lone liberal” in the family.  For years I made myself miserable by casting myself in that role and really getting into some heavy victim consciousness.  It was like I was emitting some kind of vibratory resonance from another part of the same song:
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was ...
I tricked myself into believing I was supposed to gauge the progress of my adulthood along the lines of the tangibles of my brothers.  No, I did not have and do not have the beautiful house with the beautiful wife and, yes, things certainly did appear to be the “same as it ever was ...”  After a while I decided to kick down the door and took a sojourn overseas for a couple of years.  About the same time a member of our family, a cousin, younger than me, was found to have cancer.  For me and my cousin, (cousin-in-law actually) life changed quite a bit.  I started asking myself, “Where does that highway lead?  Am I right?  Am I wrong?” and even daring to ask, “My God!  What Have I done?” Suddenly my mortality came into focus clearer than it ever has. Time had become the great equalizer.
Somehow the fact that the same number of relatives are getting together is a miracle in itself.  The oldest generation in my family is approaching 80 and none of us have been immune to health or financial problems.  I could claim to have been the victim of unemployment but I’ve seen far worse than me.  I’m extremely lucky when I look at what some of my friends have had to endure.  These days I don’t care about how much the TV at the family gatherings is running FOX News or football, my cousin (and his wife and kids) are happy he’s alive and well. And I’d rather talk about the job I’m lucky enough to have and the career direction I’m fortunate enough to be taking.  I just don’t get to talk about the beautiful house with the beautiful wife ... YET!!

Paul McDonald is a writer, educator and graduate student who thinks too much. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

*”Once In A Lifetime” by Brian Eno, David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison and Tina Weymouth. © 1980 Sire Records.