Let us be thankful to the people who bring us happiness; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
The family – that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to.
Over the summer, I found myself at a wonderful social gathering of extended family while on an out of town visit. It was such a delightful time. Children were playing; food was being served; the conversation was engaging and there was much joy and laughter. I realized I had not seen these family members in some time and resolved to be more intentional about keeping the connection.
It is so easy not to do. Long distances and associated costs of travel; busy lives; competing demands; and variation in the importance individuals place on family time are a few of the challenges of gathering. Some families are not able to get together; for some it doesn’t matter; and some probably shouldn’t.
The other reality for me is that our immediate families become the focus of our time and attention as our children grow and establish their own lives. I came to realize that my parents, like many others I know, functioned as a kind of glue, bringing family- children and grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins- together for occasions that might not otherwise happen. When ageing parents are gone, family ties can loosen until months have gone by without anyone seeing each other. Not because anything is wrong-but because everyone is busy leading their own lives and because each one of us has different ideas about how frequent get-togethers should be.
A sense of family defies definition, but we know it when we experience it. The intriguing, sometimes complicated entities that families are can take any number of forms and combinations. All family members participate to varying degrees in creating stories that are woven together over time- the family narrative- and which forge an attachment or tie between between individuals. We may not like parts of the story, but it is ours.
What I find curious about families is that genetics throw people together who might otherwise have little to do with each other. This makes family connections different from other relationships. We are inextricably bound by family ties, no matter how loose the bonds or far flung the individuals. Such ties, however, make families easy to take for granted because they are always with us in one way or another. It is family with whom we share the minutiae of day to day living, keenly aware of each other’s joys, strengths, and faults; the way we rise to the occasion or profoundly disappoint. That is why we feel the sting when differences of opinion become heated or we feel wronged by another. Family members know us so well- or we think they should. I admit I expect family members to read my mind or behave in a certain way and for some reason am surprised when they don’t.
Each of us needs to decide if we want to keep family connections and what shape they should take. Family life can be messy and complicated, but I know I am enriched for those connections even as I know I likely contribute to the messiness and complications. The times we come together matter to me, in part because gatherings become part of a bank of memories for my sons that anchor their lives going forward; but also because I have come to appreciate how tenuous such connections can become if they are not nurtured along.
At the extended family gathering I referred to earlier, so many had set aside time on a Saturday afternoon to come together and I was touched by their generosity of spirit, hospitality, and kindness. I enjoyed myself immensely. It takes time and effort to make such gatherings happen.
The weeks and months can slip by surreptitiously. Family time can so easily be postponed for the busyness of our own lives and more immediate gatherings with friends. Does that matter?
It does to me.
May I never take it for granted.