Jul 6, 2009

Foresaking Family

Who cares about family? Those distant relatives with vastly different lives, values, and passions. Those ones we don't see much but still feel some strange obligation and attachment to? It seems that I do.

I just spent a week-end and a couple hundred dollars to take my boys to cousin Lynda's fiftieth (50!) birthday bash. We got to eat the biggest Safeway cake ("full slab") and the most cheezies I've seen since a highschool "Risky Business" party, laugh at the usual over-the-hill banner and blow-up walker toy (replacing a few other blow-up toys, we're told), and reunite with 2 matriarch aunts, 6 cousins we hadn't seen since the annual Christmas Eve party, and a roomful of her other relative and old friends that make up her extended family I've peripherally known for ages.

It continues to baffle me why this random group of people, associated by the accident of common ancestry, would mean enough for me to abandon the farm, add more travelling greenhouse gasses, and miss the chance to steal the clothes of sarah's skinny-dipping girls gaggle. That is to say, enough for me to step out of our consciously-chosen life and community to honour the past and heritage that isn't part of our daily or deliberate reality.

But it isn't baffling when I see the boys with their relatives. Even though they're the only kids, they are bubbling with excitement when these gatherings happen. They rushed into long-lost Aunt Sall's arms, and blushed with pride as the birthday girl deservedly gushed over their homemade presents (a hand-knit washcloth from Galen, and a painted rock and finger-knit christmas-tree-decoration from Zekiah). They joined their 13-year-old cousin in demanding another summer BBQ and waterfight.

The children intuitively know what I have to keep re-figuring-out: that this bloodline gives a sense of place in the grand scheme of our human society. This is where we come from; this is the common cloth we're all cut from. Our gnarled branches and bizarre berries - so different in appearance and taste - all somehow came from these same deep roots and fertile soil. Being with our clan gives us a feeling of connection, of being part of a greater family, and through them linked to a greater human species. We're not just a maverick collection of atoms and whims blowing wherever we please; we came from somewhere real and are moving from that place to another reality with a sense of purpose and history and meaning.

During my Christian missionary days in Africa, I hung onto Jesus' call to leave the family behind to follow him. His actual words range from "let the dead bury their own dead" (Matthew 8:21-22) to the idea that a true disciple must "hate his father and mother, his wife and children..." (Luke 14:26). At first it was a convenient way to write off my absence from the family, in a particular time of need. The world needed me more, and my true family were those who believed and lived a life of faith-based service similar to me.

I've come to realize that there are different types of family with different roles and needs. My fellow travellers along the road I've chosen are a cherished community that calls for the bulk of my regular energy and involvement and even loyalty. But those relatives who constitute my genetic and historical and childhood origin are a source of strength, a launching ground, and a measuring post of where I've come from. Like a child who comes back to his parent for a reassuring hug once in a while before running back to the playground, I return to this family source for a regular reconnection and remembrance of a core part of me.

No comments:

Post a Comment