Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Lady and The Elder

The elder swallowed a piece of the chocolate tart I'd bought her, looked over at Sarah, and tossed a grenade out into the middle of the table:
"I do it on purpose. Once I'm close enough to someone, I'll find a way to get them really angry at me so I can see their reaction. That way I can tell if they'll ever kick me when I'm down."

I'm fond of re-gifting stories, anecdotes, jokes, and the like. My only defense for this deplorable behaviour is that I learned it on my father's knee. I grew up on a handful of oft repeated and much abused "witticisms" that still bubble to the surface of my porridge-like brain at the drop of - well, just about anything. The one that's currently lurking about in the murky shallows of my mind goes something like this:

"You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your...."

Presumably you can see where that ends up. Aside from the hopefully unintended effect of permanently damaging my sense of humor, my father's primary purpose in wielding this particular epigram was to stress the importance of family ties.

His point? Family is forever. (Double edged sword, anyone?) Practically speaking, he is correct. Regardless of preferences, family's not something that you can leave behind. Try as you will, those relationships run deep and leave a lasting impression on your life. Although he spoke of friends, my understanding of my father's world view leads me to suspect that he meant this lesson to apply to blood relations. My views, however, are a bit more inclusive.
It wasn't until the elder's glance in my direction froze and she burst out laughing that I noticed the complete slack in my facial muscles. Closing my mouth, I glanced over at my sister. Sarah's eyes were wide and unblinking. After a beat that went on for a couple of centuries, she turned to me, took a deep breath, and lowered her head towards her hand. As she massaged her temples, I removed my glasses and looked back at the elder. Her smile was starting to slip a bit.

I see two varieties of family member. Those you choose, and those you don't. The bonds between family members of the chosen variety are vastly different then those connecting you to the family with which you're raise. Neither sort of relationship is inherently stronger then the other, despite voluminous propaganda to the contrary. I'd be surprised if the cruelties shared between family members were in any way outnumbered by the life changing sacrifices made for close comrades and friends; but such sacrifices do exist. I've seen them.

"So, I really could have handled that better"
Having said all I could about my latest encounter with the elder, I took a couple of deep breaths and cocked my head sharply to the left. If the snapping sound crackling up from my spine was audible over the phone, the lady on the other end didn't mention it. Instead she slowly started in another direction:
"Do you think it would have made any difference?"

I've had the good fortune of sharing deeply intimate emotional attachments to some of my blood relations, but I have other family members I only keep in my life out of willful stubbornness. On the other hand, I have lasting family that I don't share any pedigree with. Nurturing the loving relationships of both sorts has taught me that it's not genetic connection that make a family. Family's are built out of shared experiences and interests, unswerving loyalty, mutual concern and the loving respect that springs from these qualities. No matter your genealogy, you pick your family. You pick it every day with the decisions you make about the people around you: how you treat them; the value you place on their opinions and concerns; and the loyalty you choose to afford them.

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