Our Chosen Families
I believe in the power of surrogate families. I am fortunate to have such a relationship with a group of friends I have known for forty years. It was through this connection I would come to foster and mentor a youth to his adulthood.
When I met Greg, he was fourteen and deeply enamored of my niece. In time I would learn that Greg’s family had been shattered by the ravages of substance abuse and its attended poverty. Greg displayed superior academic talents and the scars of neglect and abuse. One can help in polishing essays or providing necessary clothing, but what of the necessity of the unwavering love all children need?
As all adolescent loves run their course, the ardent passion subsided and Greg looked to my niece for what she could not give to him. How does one inform an extremely bright youth that heartbreak is something everyone is tasked to bear? That extended weekend saw us discussing how malleable one’s life is; we don’t get to choose when we get hurt, but we do get a crack at fashioning our lives as we see fit.
Greg’s love of sports and academics would place him on his high school football team and to eyes of recruiters of West Point. Often I would take a bus from the Port Authority to his school in upstate New York to watch him participate in a Lincoln Douglass debate or to quarterback a football game. He was very good at butting heads with others, even his teachers. After particularly bad fallout with a French teacher he had to explore how surrogates often stand in for those who are not available to pour out one’s anger.
The summer of 2001 saw Greg at basic training in the mountains of upstate New York. Towards the middle of West Point’s basic training Greg found that he had made the wrong choice. He came to live with me in August and we successfully took this downturn and found a very good college to begin his academic career.
The day after September 11, 2001, Greg turned eighteen. We awoke to the acrid stench of hatred and malice. So profound was this event in Greg’s life that it changed the course of his academic career. He had the luck of meeting a very talented professor that guided him along the difficult and mentally challenging rigors of undergraduate philosophy. From this came the opportunity to apply for the Marshall Scholarship and eventually to Oxford University.
On a recent visit our extended family gathered and I witnessed my mother’s best friend, now a great grand mother delighting in her great grand son. It is from these two women I learned how to nurture and to be generous in spirit. This grace has extended to four generations and will be for the future. This I believe, our chosen families identify and sustain us.
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