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A few years ago, I was at my Aunt Bernie’s home for Thanksgiving. All the “usual suspects” were on hand and the meal, as usual, was fantastic. It’s a bit of a drive for us, and it was super cold outside, but it’s always worth the drive.

My aunt’s home is very nice. Among other things in the family, we have a huge tradition of making reading a priority. To say that my Aunt Bernie has a vast collection of books is an understatement. Bernie was like a second mother to me in my childhood. Her son Steve and I were like brothers growing up. We have a million stories to tell between getting in trouble with b.b. guns and playing stickball at the junior high on weekends. Bernie always cooked us cool meals, set us up for sleepovers, and was always willing to break out the belt (like that time we knocked over the coffee table while pillow fighting in the living room).

But time passes. People grow up and move away. Soon you almost take their existence for granted. But over time you lose the connection of knowing them the way you used to. You still feel close to them. But you are actually growing more distant.

I call this illusion of closeness “The Mosaic Effect.” They are family. We love them. But we are too close to see them as they fully are.

So imagine my shock, in looking through Aunt Bernie’s collection of books, when I saw a series on Tai Chi. I love martial arts culture deeply and the image of my aunt doing Tai Chi took her all outside of the frame of who my aunt is in my own minds eye.

I called to thank her for dinner a day or so after Thanksgiving, and I mentioned the books on Tai Chi I had found. “Oh yeah,” she said, alive with excitement.  “I used to do Tai Chi all the time.” She quickly told me about how she liked it and all the benefits she got from it. I told her of my love for yoga and martial arts. It was a genuine family moment.

I realized how little I actually knew my aunt. I could make no assumptions about her on any level anymore. If she was into Tai Chi for all these years, what else didn’t I know about her? Was my passion for martial arts genetic? What else don’t I know about my other aunts, cousins and uncles?

So this Thanksgiving, I have some advice for you.

Take a step back from your usual surface conversations about the weather, who’s gonna win the Superbowl, and the time Uncle Reggie fell down the stairs trying to imitate Michael Jackson, and ask the relative sitting next to you a question about their life that truly engages them. I bet you’ll learn more about them and yourself than you ever expected. Don’t ask from a place of judgement. Ask from a place of love. I bet when you step back from the Mosaic Effect, you’ll love your family portrait. And tell me what you learned about someone you love in the comments below. See you after the holiday.

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