When I was growing up, holidays were an endless stream of relatives, food, music, and laughter. There was rarely an elegant table setting and quiet conversation. That’s not how the Greeks in my life did things.
There were always more people than there was room at the table, and pastisto and spanakopita were the side dishes for the turkey in lieu of cornbread and string bean casseroles. There was no Instagram photo to remember to take so you could compare your holiday dinner to those of strangers and wonder why theirs looked better than yours. At best, glimpses of the day were captured on a Kodak camera that you hoped someone would remember to develop before summer came around.
If I close my eyes, I can see them in rich detail. I can hear the Greek music being played on a stereo player, breathe in the smell of cherry pipe tobacco from when people still allowed you to smoke in the house, and I can see my father trying to carve an enormous turkey while surrounded by my mother and aunts, all crowded into our tiny kitchen. The lack of room at the “big table” left me sitting at the kids’ table well into my 30s.
I don’t remember anyone suggesting I should savor them, and it never occurred to me how precious and fleeting those moments would one day seem. I had that feeling you have when you’re young enough not to know any better: that there was an endless supply of moments, so if you missed one it didn’t matter. There was always another to be had on its heels. And another. And another.
I know better now.
My mother sat at the head of our table this year and held the hands of her son and daughter as she told us how grateful she was to still be here at 96, and to have been granted such a long life. I did not reach for my iPhone to capture it on video. Maybe I should have, but as a few tears trickled down my cheek, I was too present and too in the moment to think of anything but where I was.
Halloween candy now hits stores on Labor Day weekend, and Starbucks already plays “Jingle Bell Rock” the week before Thanksgiving. We have been taught to believe that if it’s not posted on social media, it’s not real, so it’s easy to lose sight of being fully in the moment. The ad-based revenue model that both traditional and digital media is based on encourages us to constantly think ahead of where we are today, as business clamors for who will get the biggest share of our dollars.
Since we’re not going to get any help, the onus is on us to remain conscious about being present and in the moment, and savoring the moments we know are extra special. If we feel the need to capture it for Instagram, so be it, but not at the expense of allowing ourselves to experience the magic of that moment in real time.
We wonder what will be left over after our holiday dinners — which juicy morsels of food we can go foraging for the next day in the refrigerator… a slice of apple pie or a secret stash of stuffing. But it seems to me that the very best leftovers are found in the moments we experienced. The bonus is that those have no expiration date.
This article originally appeared on joannetombrakos.com
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