The Ties that Bind November 12, 2021

As the holidays approach, it seems natural that family comes to the forefront of our minds.  I lived far away from my family for most of my young adult life.  I now live close enough to see much of my extended family every few years.  When I do, it’s as if no time has passed.

Recently, I spent the weekend with nine of my first cousins, all-female. Initially, there were 15 girls and 6 boys on my mother’s side of the family.  Two of the boys didn’t survive infancy, and two of the girls have died in the last twenty years.  Still, that leaves a lot of us to get together!  From the oldest in the family to the youngest, there are only 18 years.  While that’s a significant age gap for kids, it’s nothing for adults.  We all seem to be of an age when we’re together, and we enjoy doing many fun and downright silly things.  What is most meaningful is that there are no airs or pretenses.  We are real people with real lives.  We share sincerely and honestly with one another, and we find an endless source of love, affirmation, and support.  This makes me wonder how that came to be.

Even though we are a “blended” family, no distinction was ever made in that regard. In fact, most of us didn’t figure out that we only shared a grandmother, not a grandfather, until we were in late elementary school!  My mother’s father married my grandmother after her first husband left her with two small children to raise.  He took those two as his own, entirely and without question.  When his biological children came along, they were loved just the same as those first two.  If that hadn’t been the case, I’m sure we would have felt the difference as we were growing up.

For us, all we felt was that we were family.  As kids, we loved getting together on major holidays at our grandparents.  The house was small and the yard even smaller, but we loved to be together.  Boys and girls ran wild, played games, and spent time as only kids could do.  Through the years, we watched the older girls fall in love, get married, and start their own families.  Eventually, our grandparents aged out of hosting parties.  The original siblings were grandparents now.  Satellite families emerged, with the four siblings hosting their own holiday events.

By the time I moved back to the area, some of my cousins had long been grandparents themselves.  We began to hold family reunions and to celebrate together major milestone birthdays of our parents.  We gathered for funerals, as well.  Through it all, there was never a sense of strangeness among us.  No awkwardness was felt no matter how many years had elapsed or how much life may have changed us.  We were simply family.

We all know that it isn’t biology that makes a family.  There are too many wonderful blended and adoptive families for biology to be the basis of family.   Then, there are the friends who become family – my chosen family, I call them.  Co-workers who share their personal lives with one another can become family.  What is it that knits a group of people together so tightly that they feel like family?  In my own experience, I have to say that it’s the love, concern, and support we give to one another.  I’d like to say those things are “unconditional,” but that’s not always the case.  It’s more accurate to say that the love, concern, and support are always there despite sometimes being conditional!

As flawed human beings, we are often judgmental and opinionated.  However, with family, when the chips are down, we can rise above those petty reactions and respond with a generosity of spirit that embraces and enfolds, nourishes and supports.  As family, we have a sense of oneness that gives rise to empathy and compassion.  We identify with one another so much that when one of us hurts, we all hurt.

Why is it different for the whole of humanity? Viewed from the highest perspective I can reach, I can see that the whole of creation is one entity.  Within that entity, there are trillions of distinct aspects all contributing to the ONEness.  There are billions of separate cells in my own body working together to create this one expression of human life.  My body cells don’t fight each other – when they do, it’s called autoimmune disease.  When they fight an outside agent, it’s called illness!

The body of humanity as a whole has never understood this.  The history of humanity has been a long tale of conflict and conquest.  We are constantly at odds with one another.  The primary autoimmune disease of society is on full display right now for anyone to see.  Instead of seeing that we are ONE, we are separating into more and more special interest groups.  It’s as if we are anxious and excited to see how special and different from one another we can be.  That would be great if we could recognize and celebrate our differences while still embracing our Oneness.

Instead, we are caught in the seemingly endless and futile human tragedy of separating into “us vs. them?”  Why are we allowing ourselves to be drawn into these conflicts?  It’s because we have forgotten that we are all one family.  We have to learn to live together, or we will all surely die together.  As we approach Thanksgiving, will you hold the vision with me of truly loving your neighbor – even the one halfway around the world who holds a gun and not a turkey leg in his hand?


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