The mountain I frequently hike is like a quirky friend, who loves shopping at thrift shops—rummaging though large boxes and through wobbly racks of moth-smelling clothes. She shows up at every event looking fabulous and interesting—though technically nothing really matches.
Nothing seems to match on Mt. Tamalpais either: some areas are thin stretches of smooth clay winding through mixed evergreen forests; whereas some areas are wide paths of dirt and loose rocks bordered by large hills with tall grasses. Some areas are dark, heavy with moisture, and chilly, while others are brightly sun lit and warm enough to cause you to shed your jacket.
I take the same route almost every time I hike – a 3 ½ mile circle. A little more than halfway through the hike, on a skinny trail at the edge of the mountain, there is an opening in the trees that allows an idyllic view of the surrounding cities. I always stop in that area, look down and out at the beauty, and say a small prayer of thanks. In that moment, the world seems perfect.
I get the same feeling every time I travel by plane. As I am landing or taking off, I always look out of the window. From 5,000 feet every city looks clean, organized, picturesque and enchanting. After I land and am driving home, I can see the city more closely; the details emerge and I see litter on the sides of the roads, homeless people living under bridges, boarded up homes, and closed businesses.
This vantage point -of being elevated and distant -has always made me think that birds may be the most favored animal. What it must be to see the world from high in the sky, where you see the multiple shades of greens and blues in the ocean, when buildings and houses serve merely as dotted landing marks, when the curvy lines of topography come together in a perfect seamless puzzle. What’s more perfect than a bird’s eye view?
Social media gives us the equivalent of a bird’s eye view into other’s lives: pictures and stories fill our timelines and provide us with a glimpse into our friend’s, co-worker’s, and associates’ lives. It’s entertaining, but please remember this holiday season that you are only getting a bird’s eye view; you are not seeing anyone’s reality. You are not getting the full-picture – the view from the ground – with all of its imperfections.
You may see a table filled with delicious food and smiling family members; but you don’t see that the man at the head of the table wasn’t around when his children were growing up because he left the family to be with another woman and has just recently reconciled with them. You don’t see that the two sisters sitting across from each other rarely can get along for more than a day; or that the turkey was dry this year. You don’t see that Uncle Luke got drunk and cursed out one of his nephews about his sagging pants; that Aunt Mary could barely afford to buy the pies that she was on the potluck list to make; that cousin Justin is worried that his 17 year-old girlfriend may be pregnant; or that the little cousins wouldn’t engage with anyone because they are mesmerized by their phones. The pictures won’t tell of divorces, strained relationships; or financial woes.
My holiday images are no different. The pictures don’t tell how my great Aunt Sue, always with a crooked wig, would insult anyone overweight in my family as they ate; or how my grandmother told me off because I didn’t serve chitterlings the first time I hosted Thanksgiving at my home, or how I spent a couple of years in bed crying most of the day on Thanksgiving for years following my mother’s passing, or the year I tried to be different and make a duck (that didn’t work out so well), or how I was once overdrawn on my personal account and had to charge Thanksgiving dinner on my business card.
Not one of my Thanksgivings has been perfect. I promise you, no one has had a perfect holiday (though it may appear so from a bird’s eye view). People are flawed; and life can be messy. I think that is why Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday: it reminds me to be thankful despite having nothing close to a perfect life. Thanksgiving takes me to a place where I clear my mind of my daily worries, look more closely at my blessings, breathe, and say a prayer of thanks.