“A family is too frail a vessel to contain the risks of all the warring impulses expressed when such a group meets on common ground.”
I'm sitting on my porch this morning, watching squirrels chase one another in the trees. At one point, four of them ran out a branch all the way to its end and then tucked underneath and ran back to the trunk on the underside. They clatter around the tree trunk, round and round, and squabble with one another. I'm glad I don't know what they're saying. It's too early in the morning for such talk. They remind me for all the world of the human families I know.
I grew up in a pretty small family. I had just two sisters, one older and one younger. My older sister was smart and pretty, but she had spina bifida, and walked with a slight limp. My younger sister had a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of three weeks, and was severely brain damaged. I fell in the middle, and other than having asthma as a baby, and spending most of my first two years in a convent hospital in Asheville, NC, I managed to get by without birth defects or brain damage. All of these mishaps, as you might imagine, affected my family greatly. My older sister and I managed to do the normal things—go to school, dance at the prom, graduate, go to college, get married, have children—but our family was not one that anyone on earth would call typical. Even so, we somehow developed the same characteristics as most families—we loved one another, but we were competitive, combative, and given to harsh judgments. We shuffled around for top position on every hierarchy of comparison, tried to be as different from one another as possible, and in general, were a fractious bunch of folks. We laughed, we cried, we fought like mad dogs; but, we were glued to one another by bone and cell, and never abandoned the family.
I suspect in reading that paragraph, you may have recognized your own family—or perhaps not. Family is one of the categories for which we have exceptionally high expectations—so high as to be unrealistic. The fact that we share a bloodline makes us think we should all be on the same page. That is rarely so, and in fact, I have almost never seen a family in which everyone agrees, and is cooperative and supportive of everyone else. If they're out there, I'd like to know about them. What I think instead is that we are born into a group of people who will challenge us, rub us the wrong way, and rub us the right way, until we become who we are intended to be. They are the grist for our mill; the sand in our oyster shell. Through them, we define who we are, and who we are not. Everyday, I have more appreciation for my sisters, both of whom are now gone, for the influence, indeed the major impact, they had on my life. I wouldn't be me if they hadn't been them. I wonder about you—how did your family shape who you are today?
In the Spirit,