“ You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” — Desmond Tutu.
According to Merriam-Webster, Family is defined as a group of people who are related to each other, or a group of persons of common ancestry. This is appropriately vague, because in our modern world of blended relationships and creative dynamics, the term “family” has wide-reaching meaning. To some, “family” refers to our immediate household members – potentially a spouse, possibly children. To many of us, that simple word, family, casts a far greater net than that, encompassing siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. Family can include those not even related by blood and heritage… I consider some of my closest BFF’s to be part of my family, as my sisters. Many others also consider the dearest friendships in their lives to be their family.
Variety is the spice of life with families. Some are small and intimate, with members living near each other throughout generations past and present. Others are large and complex, spread out far and wide. Yet no matter what the format, shape or size, there is some sort of common thread that connects family members. We can drive each other crazy, have differing opinions, and have varying life goals – but somehow, there is still an undeniable connection. If I were to create my own dictionary (move over, M-W!) I’d revise the family definition to read something like “a group of people with bonds that can not be broken by time, distance, personality quirks, opinions, or bad decisions. “
I have one of those spread-out families. I literally have relatives residing everywhere from California to New England. As more time and distance passes, staying in touch has proven to be more and more challenging. I often wish it was easier to see some of my family members on a regular basis, because I know all too well that life is short. Yet gone are the days of frontier living where we all would stay together on the same acreage and take care of the homestead. Now, instead, we are all trying to maintain our own homesteads, far apart, and rather than gathering for a weekly meal at our clan’s ranch, we rely on the internet and social media to stay in touch.
This weekend I had the pure joy of re-connecting, in person, with my cousins from my Dad’s side of the family in what we hope will become an annual reunion. We are all familiar with the phrase that nothing brings family together like weddings and funerals – well, sadly, this group of cousins were all re-acquainted over the past year due to the loss of some dear family members from the generation before us. Even amidst our sadness and despair, we were able to share laughs, hugs, and wonder “why aren’t we spending time together?”
And so, the idea to gather for a happier reason was born. With surprisingly little planning and drama, 25 of us pulled together for what I believe will end up going down in my personal history book as one of my top 10 best weekends. It helped, of course, that the weather was perfect, and the setting (thanks to one generous cousin) was both comfortable and beautiful.
The most remarkable thing about the weekend, besides the blue skies and sunshine, was how effortlessly we all connected even after literally decades of being apart. It took just about a nano-second for each of us to feel that bond, that familial pull. We compared memories of the past, updates on our current lives, and met faces never yet introduced. Hours flew past over food, beverage, outdoor activities, and best of all: story-telling. Emotions ranged from laughter to near tears, to fascination and hope. And with each re-connection, we learned a bit more about each other – creating friendships to go with that common ancestry.
We glossed over some of the errors and poor choices that may have been made by previous generations that likely attributed to our distances from each other, and instead happily blazed on to forge new connections. One of the greatest moments was watching our children – the next generation of cousins – bond, finding their own common grounds, shared interests, and enjoyment in having time together.
Not only were we all pleasantly surprised how much fun our gathering was, we were all somewhat shocked at how just plain easy it was. There was no awkwardness, no stranger anxiety, no concerns on how to connect. It all just happened.
We came away with high hopes in planning the next gathering as we shared phone numbers, emails and addresses to stay in touch. Life is busy, and we all have experienced the falling off of once-valued relationships, and the ache of empty promises to “stay in touch.” Yet with certain people in our lives, those promises carry more weight and less doubt. More honesty and less hype. More love and less hollowness.
Certainly not all family gatherings can be as rosy and fun as my experience this weekend. They can be challenging, messy, frustrating and a little bit wild. That still doesn’t change the fact that we R.W.’s need our families, need that piece of string that ties us together. We thrive on the crazy stories that weave us together.
Like it or not, family members feed our souls.