“Happy or unhappy, families are all mysterious. We have only to imagine how differently we would be described—and will be after our deaths—by each of the family members who believe they know us.”
Spending a weekend between the poles of either side of my family—mother's sister's children, father's brother's children—all of us now in our “golden years” is an interesting experience. There's quite a crowd of us and every single one is an individual in his or her own right. Believe me, there are plenty of opinions to go around—one thing we all have in common is being strongly opinionated. I would guess you know something about that. And, with the holidays coming up, I'll bet there is a small seed of dread sprouting right alongside the excitement of seeing your whole clan in its fullness.
It's hard, in these polarized times, not to discuss controversial subjects like politics and religion—the very topics that raise the hackles on everyone's necks. In our lives outside these family gatherings, that's all we talk about. Instead of wading into controversy, however, we steer away from the minefield that stretches before us by talking about children and work and trivial stuff that diffuses the tension, but certainly doesn't connect us at any level deeper than skin.
But, here's the rub, family is what matters most. In the words of Alex Haley, “In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.” We think we know one another since we share a common bloodline, but we truly don't know each other because we're too busy protecting our vulnerable parts. I learned more about my aunt's children in three hours yesterday than I've known in my whole life—death has a way of opening us up to deeper communication.
Virginia Satir, the founder of Transformational Systemic Family Therapy, was an old wizard at understanding family dynamics. I had the great, good fortune of attending one of her seminars shortly before her death. She described the family's importance in these terms: “Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible—the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.” It is the shared blood that keeps us connected, but only when we deepen the bonds of trust and friendship in families do we learn more about ourselves. Family is the key to our Rosetta stone—with all their attitudes and opinions—they tell us, they show us, exactly how we came to be who we are.
In the Spirit,