Hamlet says of his uncle Claudius, who is also his step-father: "a little more than kin, but less than kind". Family is always kin and there is always love, no matter its manifestation exuberant or shadowed, but the kind part is dependent on so many things.
Lets start with the good, the immutable.
- Love. It's not all happy ever after, not for parents and children, nor for spouses, nor aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews nor cousins, whether full or removed once, twice or wished-for removed. In-law love may take root, or not, but at the very least it seasons the other loves in our lives. Love is pervasive. Its roots go deep into our souls. The droughts, fires, freezing, earthquakes, floods of life may alter them, but they persist on deeply, seeking sustenance, nourishing us with green plenitude or spindly sourness, but nourish it does just the same. It cannot be beaten by any force. Not even death, the ultimate divider, can hold it off bleed us as death will. Love is forever.
- We are never alone. We may have family members whose pain and suffering isolate them from others or we may do this ourselves in an attempt to scar over the pain of loss, grief, guilt, shame, disappointment or deep-worry; we can never isolate ourselves from the roots of love, both earthly and divine. Our family runs in our veins, warm sap passed on generation to generation by our ancestors whose unseen presence and unheard prayers whisper comfort, strength, tears and hope to us, unobserved, but powerful. No dam lasts forever because water, like love, will erode any barrier over time. So it is with the love of family.
- We have a shared history. There is joy and comfort in knowing the stories, the jokes, the trials, the triumphs, the challenges, the losses, the people without having to explain everything. When you are away and come back you just pick up where you left off with them. In the meantime every phone call, every card, every letter, every picture means more.
- We have each some of our loved ones in us. We share the memories. Where one person forgets, another remembers, so as much as possible is preserved and so we collectively make a mosaic picture as a family. We get know those who have gone before us who we have never met. We get to hold onto more of those we have lost. We get to see them in a glance, a laugh, a tip of the head, a saunter in a walk, a nervous tick, a singing voice, a speaking voice, a way of moving and many little things we never notice until they resurface ephemerally in a family member like soap bubbles on the wind.
- We belong. We may be the life of the party, the funny one, the musical one, the storyteller, the great baker, the misfit, the black sheep, the embarrassing one, the peace-maker, the hard-worker, the quiet one, the chatter box, the hunter, the sewer, the keeper of the pictures, the keeper of knowledge, the confidante, the walker of hills, the gardener, the hewer of wood, the builder, the traveler, the teacher, the elder, the youthful, the wise one, the giving one, the needy one, the joyful, the depressed, the hurting, the innocent, the faithful, the lost or the found but we all belong . We have membership by birth and it cannot be revoked, though we can choose to never revisit it in person it lives in our dreams.
- We parent the way we were parented for the most part. We may be lucky to have been passed a chain of careful nurturing and kind instruction from parent to child to parent to child. Many of us are passed a chain of abuse, poverty, neglect, uncertainty, doubt like wind and storm that may twist our limbs, snap them off or even destroy us. Many of us are passed some of each. The love showing like sunshine, mildness and warmth and mental illness, addictions, hopelessness, abuse so many storm clouds bringing hurricane winds, ice pellets, driving snow like teeth, rain torrents like vertical drowning. Whether you grow straight, you grow crooked, or you are stunted depends on family.
|We may carry burdens together, hold hands, struggle to catch up, tame bears, or carry someone on our backs, but together we thrive.|
“You did not invent these family habits. Your family is like mine, for thousands and thousands of years our families have embraced a dysfunctional lifestyle, passing these habits as gospel on to subsequent generations. This was not done out of malice, spite, or hate, but what they knew best. As ineffective as these habits are, you never stopped to consider another way of loving.”
― David W. Earle
One in five people in Canada suffers from mental illness. Explore this further if you wish. That means so many families are affected by this. I have always lived with this in my family. It has made me who I am and I would not trade away any of the challenges I have known, because I would not be so strong as I am, nor so able to appreciate life so much, nor so able to see how much light there is amid the darkness, to feel empathy so deeply, nor hope so strongly. That seems to me I got the best amidst some sad, painful experiences because love will find a way through as it did in my family. I have to agree with Rumi: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
So we see that the good and the not so good about families is part of the same whole. We're in it together. Together we can triumph, grow stronger and every generation better our children's lives more, nurture more, celebrate all of life more. We must tell our family stories, the dark as well as the light, so that we learn to lift our children above the past to new heights, without ever forgetting it or letting them forget. To forget is to weaken the appreciation of the gifts we have, to forget the love and the sacrifices of those who have gone before and to forget to be thankful and humble and aware and realize that we stand in the love of our families and on the shoulders of those who have gone before be they bent or strong. If we forget to remember how empty the gifts we have and will pass on.
You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.Frederick Buechner