When the Virginia men’s basketball team played for a national championship, I think some of them had on a warm up jacket that said Virginia Family. Many of the colleges and universities have t-shirts with FAMILY written on them or refer to themselves as a family.
I belong to a Facebook group that is the Birmingham Theatre Family and often I refer to the people at Trinity United Methodist as my church family.
The dictionary says that a family is “a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household”, but goes on to have a definition of “all the descendants of a common ancestor” and then finally “a group of related things”.
Calling an entire university a family might be a stretch, although members of a team certainly can feel like family. A group of nearly 2500 people on a Facebook page hardly seems a family, yet the cast of a show can become like a family. I guess in longing for connection, we use the term more broadly than might be exactly accurate.
Family is a tricky thing sometimes. We are often born into a group that we don’t have anything in common with or that we find is not the ideal group for us to be around. We accept behaviors and disappointments from them because they are “family”. We endure things from them that we would never allow in our lives from other people.
When family works well for us it can be the best thing in our lives. I can not imagine my life without Tim and Jon. They are the center of my world and I feel most complete around them. We used to say that the strongest shape for construction is a triangle and the 3 of us made up a strong family.
Other extended members of the family are a joy to be around even though I don’t see them often enough. And others make life challenging at best.
I love the idea of family. I can remember one 4th of July I looked at the group around our table, a collection of friends of various ages and walks of life, and thought that this was the family we had put together and I was very happy with it. Since that day every one of those people other than Tim and Jon have either passed away or moved away. If family is forever, maybe this was not really a family?
Society tries to put restrictions on what makes a family legally by saying who can get married, who can adopt children, who can care for whom. It puts limits on who we can love, how we can love.
It is difficult when family members bring you heartache and distress. It is difficult to walk away, even if you know that you need to for your own well being. Even if you would advise your closest friend to step away from such a situation, it is almost impossible to do that yourself.
We are taught that blood is thicker than water, that family is everything. We know that we have an obligation to be there, no matter what. The guilt takes us back over and over, even when the pain it causes is overwhelming.
I have friends that I would do almost anything for. I have people in my life I trust completely and that bring me great joy. I am not related to most of them by blood, but I have raised my kid with their counsel and love. I have learned to be a better person because I have known them. They are the people I turn to when I am struggling and they are the people I call when I need an adventure. They are the best people I know. They feel like what I think family should be.
I grew up not knowing my extended family. I think that was by design and as an adult I have questioned that and tried to make a few moves to correct it. Geographical separation and years apart make that difficult, although technology has helped span some of the distance.
Family is a concept that often confuses me. I long for more of that connection with people and at the same time opening myself up to that deep of a relationship is terrifying. After you have been hurt to your core it is difficult to put yourself in that position again.
I don’t think all of the strangers who attended the same college that I did are really my family. Some of my friends from college feel like family though. I am not sure that the people at my church that I have never met are really my family. I am not sure that I want to claim all of the people who share my blood line as family. Sometimes I think Jon and Tim are family enough.
When I think of the people who have been a part of my life in good times and in bad, who have put up with my weirdness and who have listened to me when I made no sense, who stood beside me during tragedy as well as celebrations and for whom I would gladly do the same, I think that is what family should be.
Do I think blood is thicker than water? Not always. Does that make me feel guilty? Always. Do I really understand what family is? Probably not. Do I have a long way to go to be a good friend and family member? Lord, yes! Do I want more family in my life? Absolutely! Does that make me nervous? Uh, yeah.
Family is a tricky thing and I don’t think I completely understand it or always handle it very well. I am grateful for those who continue to stand by me when I don’t deserve it, who step in to help me when I say I don’t need them, and who love me in spite of myself. I guess that is family.