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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 7, 2010

Even the little things matter

By Michael C. DeMattos

It is those things we teach that we need most to learn. I have spent most of my professional life as a family therapist and regularly wax profoundly about the importance of both our family of origin and our family of choice. Yet every holiday season my wife and I fail at the simplest of tasks, getting our Christmas cards out in time. In fact, most years we are so late we don't even bother to send them.

This year was no exception, save that our collective guilt got the better of us and we decided to send out a New Year's card instead. We had some fun with the card and made light of our delinquent behavior, but it amounted to a confessional. We knocked over our dying Douglas fur, draped Christmas lights over our shoulders, blackened our teeth with face paint, snapped a photo and proclaimed for all to hear: "Christmas blind-sided us, hope you have a happy New Year."

Then a funny thing happened. That simple card reconnected us with family and friends that we had lost touch with and not heard from in years. We received e-mails and phone calls; they were so persistent had I not recognized their names, I might have thought they were bill collectors. They were like roaches coming out of the woodwork, except that these were roaches that you wanted to see, that you longed to talk to. (If that's possible!) My wife and I have spent the better part of January reuniting with old friends, two of whom are flying in from Virginia in late February.

I am second to none when it comes to rationalizing my behavior. For years, I told myself Christmas cards were impersonal shortcuts that undermined the more important work of relationship-building. If a Christmas card was the foundation of your relationship, I reasoned, then you were swimming in a puddle when an ocean was a stone's throw away. And it's true, a Christmas card is poor foundation, but it may open a door that circumstance, time or distance has closed.

I have prided myself in being there for the "big things" in life, but the little things matter, too. You would think a family therapist would know that already, but sometimes we (I) need reminding. I hope I never forget the big things. I want to be there for baby's first birthday, the assorted weddings and, yes, even the funerals, but I also want to remember the little things, like the quick phone call, the thank-you note, and of course, the Christmas cards. Talk to anyone who has seen a relationship falter, and he or she will tell you that the little things were the first to go. A Christmas card will never be the foundation for a relationship, but it may be the glue.