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The Beauty of Family Flaws

BY DR. HABIB SADEGHI

With the holiday season upon us, lots of people begin anticipating or dreading the journey home. It depends on who you are: The lead up to the formal dinner parties and their associated traditions can be exciting, angst-ridden, or a mixture of both. In any case, the increasing anxiety we feel as these obligatory get-togethers approach has far less to do with preparing for the festivities as it does with the family members who will actually be attending them. You know who they are and how each one can push your buttons in a way that’s totally unique to them. It’s been this way your whole life and as far as you’re concerned, it’s never, ever going to change, so you’re holding your breath to slog through another holiday season as best you can. No matter how “spiritual” you think you might be or how much therapy you’ve had, there’s something about going back home that can reduce you to your 16-year-old self in an instant.

“If it’s any consolation, it was spiritual leader, Ram Dass who said, “If you think you’re spiritually enlightened, go home for Thanksgiving.”

Yes, your bossy aunt will still be bossy, and your mother will probably qualify her compliment on your pumpkin pie by mentioning that it could have used a touch more cinnamon. The best and worst thing about home is that it never changes. The good news is that you most likely have changed and because of that have the ability to create a healthy and healing holiday season for yourself. That has everything to do with how you set your mind, as well as how you set your dinner table.

COLOR & CONVENTION

In the 1930’s when America was in the throes of the Great Depression, the Homer Laughlin China Company in Newell, West Virginia began producing a completely novel concept in dinnerware. Up until that time, most dinnerware was very formal (and expensive) and came with perfectly matching cups, plates, bowls and saucers. This new line of dinnerware was known as Fiesta and broke all the rules on how a table should be set. The simple but sturdy pieces came in six solid colors: Red, blue, yellow, green, ivory, and turquoise. Because they had no intricate designs on them, Fiesta pieces could be mixed and matched to create a table setting that burst like a rainbow. The best part about Fiesta was that it was cheap and could be bought piece by piece—up until then, china had to be purchased as a set.

This new concept was a hit in the US, and Fiesta became the first solid color dinnerware to be successfully sold on the market. With money extremely tight, it seems incredible that Fiesta could find such success during a serious economic downturn. Some have speculated that the bright bursts of color gave a much-needed emotional boost to a public that was as depressed as their economy. As the nation moved into the early 1940’s and WWII, Americans weren’t sure how entering the war would affect prosperity. Regardless of what the outcome of the war or economy might have brought, the manufacturers of Fiesta believed that real prosperity was the love and boisterous beauty that arose from people gathered around a dinner table.

The manufacturers of Fiesta believed that real prosperity was the love and boisterous beauty that arose from people gathered around a dinner table.

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

Fiesta continued to gain popularity through the 1950’s and is still manufactured today. Every once in a while, an enthusiast will bring a piece from the original line onto The Antiques Roadshow on PBS for appraisal: it’s sad to see their hopes dashed when they’re told Fiesta pieces really aren’t worth that much mainly because they were produced on such a large scale for so many years.

While Fiesta pieces may not be rare, their value lies in the countless stories they tell of shared meals and holiday dinners on the tables of generations of Americans.

This brings to mind a theatrical production of a one-man show called American Fiesta written by Steve Tomlinson. In the show, the main character is a collector of Fiesta dinnerware and approaches a woman who he believes can fix his grandmother’s chipped bowl. To his surprise, she’s actually blind and offers him a high price to purchase the damaged piece instead. After asking her why she would make an offer, the woman explains that, like him, she is also a collector but is only interested in damaged pieces. The blind woman takes the man’s fingers and guides them along the damaged areas of some of her favorite pieces: A crack on the side of a bowl told the story of someone who beat their spoon and their anger into the meal they were preparing; the chip on the edge of a plate was the mark left by someone who dropped it to run into the loving arms of another who needed them; the broken edge of a coffee mug revealed the moment it fell over because someone was daydreaming at their desk about a better job. These so-called flaws weren’t defects but moments frozen in time that defined their character and individuality and made them what they are today.

A PERFECT SET

In the same fashion, the love, loss, hope, regret, happiness, and anger, we experience from the stories of our lives are the impact points on our souls that make us uniquely who we are.

This goes for the sister-in-law who constantly complains about everything each Thanksgiving and the uncle who insists the turkey has to be carved his way. There are real stories behind these chipped character traits. Like a set of imperfect dinnerware, we can put our family on a shelf and turn all the chips and cracks toward the wall pretending it’s something it’s not or we can lay it all out on the table with irregularities on full display, recognizing the perfect imperfection of it all. Nothing needs to be fixed. While there are thousands of pristine Fiesta sets in the hands of collectors, none look like this one. Try as you might, you’ll never be able to crack or chip two pieces in exactly the same way twice. No two people will be affected in exactly the same way by the same experience in life, either. That’s what makes your dinnerware set and your family uniquely your own. If that’s not something that can be celebrated, at least it can be tolerated with only the slightest shift in perspective.

No one can force us to feel anything in particular, but rather, it’s our interpretation of an incident that gives rise to our reaction.

What we think of as personality flaws in family members are often social cues provided for our healing. Why does certain behavior upset us? No one can force us to feel anything in particular, but rather, it’s our interpretation of an incident that gives rise to our reaction. Relatives that drive us crazy are some of the best signals for us to look inward and see which impact point a situation is triggering in our hearts and why. Relationships between chipped and flawed personalities can be mutual healing partnerships. Just as the old blind woman in American Fiesta delicately guided the young collector’s fingers over the chipped dinnerware to extract its history, seeing the loving essence and humanity beneath the imperfections of others (and ourselves) requires a similarly fine-tuned perception, not the heavy hand of judgment.

The amazing thing about Fiesta dinnerware is that no matter how many colors you’ve set out on the table, it’s designed so that, regardless of the combination, the colors always go together—chips, cracks, and all. The same could be said for families, too.

For more insights from Dr. Sadeghi, visit Behiveofhealing.com and sign up for his monthly newsletter, or check out his annual health and wellbeing journal, MegaZEN.

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