FAMILY TREES

“You must remember, family is often born of blood, but it doesn’t depend on blood. Nor is it exclusive of friendship. Family members can be your best friends, you know. And best friends, whether or not they are related to you, can be your family.” 
― Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society

Yesterday, a typical Sunday afternoon for me – folding laundry and catching up on television shows on my DVR – I stumbled upon a show where a pair of singer/songwriters were talking about being inspired to write a song for a friend who was struggling to see her own beauty.  I thought it was such a lovely gesture on their part and I could hear the passion as they talked about their process of writing the song.  Naturally, it made me think about what inspires me to write.  Like the pair, I need to be really passionate about something for the words to flow through me and, when that inspiration hits, it is difficult to hold them back.  And, almost as if the Gods heard me, I was trolling around Facebook a short time later and found some inspiration.

Two things caught my attention and they were so oddly related that it felt like a bit of divine intervention.  First, I saw a photo of one of our oldest friends that brought a huge smile to my face.  He recently acquired his first pair of reading glasses (a common plight with my social set these days) and posted a photo of himself wearing them to amuse his mother-in-law on her birthday.  Something about seeing him with the glasses took my breath away as it captured the passage of time since we met when he and I were just starting out right after college.  His endearing smile, the small crinkles around his eyes, and the signs of age that come from years of living life to the fullest was simply joyful.  It reminded of me of how I see my husband every time I catch sight of the grey hair in his beard or around his temples.  I can just as easily imagine him as the young man I met 20 years ago and I adore the history that the aging process signifies.

Immediately I was flooded with memories of the two decades of friendship he and I have shared with our spouses and children and just the look on his face made me happy. Not sad that we hardly get to see each other anymore because he and his family live across the country but, instead, grateful that we have such wonderful memories and that, as we age, we have a familiarity and comfort that never wanes.  He and his wife and my  husband and I have been friends since the beginning of our relationships and our children have known each other since birth.  They are our family – distant, separate but always deeply connected in our hearts.

Almost immediately following that, I saw a posting from a friend of a friend that challenged the very notion that had just warmed my heart.  She wrote:

“My friends, neighbors, students and colleagues it is important that you never take your own family for granted- today “family” is thrown around as a casual term – sometimes describing a group of friends or workmates, nope. What happens when you are no longer “family”? or if you decide to move on? Please consider its origin, It is through blood, through marriage or birth, by genetics, lineage, heritage- marked by tradition, held together through customs and habits for generation after generation…Not perfect, not without flaws but – it is you and I, and it makes up who and what we are..it is the essence of our soul.  To enjoy an experience with those that are like minded is a constant gift, to have friends that you cherish is a rare gem, to exercise with a group of students is a limitless joy and one that I hold steadfast to my heart. But they are not my sisters, nor my brothers- and they are not yours either…we are mere humans sharing space, hopefully being kind to each other, supporting one another and wishing and bringing out the best for– but when the chips fall where they may, who is there to pick up the pieces? remember the difference… because one day, in quick moment, you will know.”

While I have great respect for the bonds she has with her family, her assertion cut through me and saddened me because the suggestion that family is created by lineage and blood and marriage simply does not hold true for me and many I know and love.  I can appreciate that she may be one of the very fortunate who has an intact family that is able to love and support each other but many of us need to find family in different ways.  And, often those family members come from work or our communities and we are more than simply “humans sharing a space.”  That is not to say that every friend and every colleague with whom we share closeness and affection is of the caliber of being considered family but, for many of us, we discover those diamonds who truly become our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers.  We connect and love and share and assume responsibility for one another in a far deeper way than simply humans sharing a space and being kind to one another.

I try hard to not take offense at other people’s beliefs and ideals because I accept that we all come from different places with markedly different experiences.  In this case, her open commentary to her community disturbed me because it challenged everything that is true for me.  While I understand she met no malice by her words and her sentiment was genuine and heartfelt, the reality is that, according to her commentary, I have no family beyond my husband and children – and the mere thought of that makes me very sad.  Unfortunately, I have not had the good fortune to have blood relatives who could love and support one another.  We are not the ones who are there for each other when the chips are down and we need to be lifted up.  My reality is that, aside from my husband and children – whom I love dearly and would go to the ends of the earth for – there is no one with whom I am connected by blood that has any involvement in my life.  It is painful and sometimes I feel very alone, but it is my truth.  Instead, I have painstakingly, handpicked a select group of people who are my people – my family.  I know, without any uncertainty, that they will be there for me through thick and thin and I for them.  Ironically, the friend that I share in common with the author of those comments is one of those people who is part of my manufactured family.  She is my oldest friend and she and her family are the closest thing to blood relatives I have ever had.  We have no genetic connection.  There is no lineage, no marriage, no heritage.  Just years of caring for one another and building enduring bonds that have surpassed many of our relatives.  There is no doubt in my mind that we are family without a single genetic link.

Families come in many shapes and forms and that proves itself to me every day when I think about the families I see all around my community.  I live in a wonderful environment where families are constructed in many different ways.  We have non-traditional families with two moms or two dads, with children that come through foster care, adoption, or surrogacy and have “aunts” and “uncles” that share no DNA but have love and bonds that are as strong as steel.  Many of us have large circles of friends – extended families – that celebrate holidays and vacations together and support one another through the most difficult and the most wonderful moments of life.  We go far beyond being kind to one another and are invested in each other’s futures and outcomes.

I do not take lightly the notion of family and I do not quickly entitle someone to being part of my family because I am very selective and very protective of those who enter into that arena.  As someone who has seen blood lines severely broken and found water to be thicker, stronger and more enduring than blood, I can say, with complete certainty, that when the chips fall, those with whom you have made significant investments, whether they come from blood lines or elsewhere, will be there to pick up the pieces.  I am walking proof that this is true.

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