This I Believe

Rita - Newtown, Pennsylvania
Entered on June 14, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: family, immigrant

I believe in the preciousness of Family. It has not always been so. The cliché in the song says, “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone…” As with many Beliefs, I have had to come full circle to embrace this one.

Growing up a child of landed immigrants in Canada who fled Europe after the Second World War, I had a small extended family around me. The youngest child by far in my immediate family, it was easy to take for granted that there would always be elders in my life; parents, siblings, a few cousins, and an ethnic cultural community to which we all belonged and which cemented us together with common experiences and values.

After my mother died when I was sixteen, to this day the most devastating event of my now four decades on this Earth, I continued to be surrounded by a smaller, but loving family. (By this time my siblings had moved far away to establish their adult lives.) For many years, my father stepped in to unconditionally take on my mother’s role as caregiver, cook, and “chief bottle washer”.

During graduate school I met my soulmate. Someone from the other end of the globe who somehow understood me like no other. Someone I never would have encountered in my life at UVM without divine intervention. For ten years of the thirteen we have known each other I have called him Habibi, my loved one, my husband. We were both living in a country so different from whence we came, yet were united in our values and dreams. Tossing the cautions of some to the wind, we have stayed together through thick and thin. In our post-graduate exuberance, we thought nothing of moving about the country to follow career paths and find our way. Today, with three beautiful children in our lives, we find ourselves in an affluent neighborhood with excellent schools, healthy minds and bodies, a professional job each, and one big, gaping hole. Each of us is yearning, as parents of young children, for the families who cannot be with us.

His in Lebanon, devastated anew by wreckless violence endangering parents, sisters, nephews and nieces. Mine on Canada’s west coast, struggling to make our father’s last chapter battling Alzheimer’s Disease as dignified as this former highly skilled engineer deserves. And our new little family, shaded by lost friendships and missed opportunities, struggling to make it in this modern world without any close friends or family to lean on nor share life’s precious moments with.

How precious are those families now, with whom we wish we could share our daily lives? They are there, at a distance, able to see those milestone photos, but not to partake of the events they commemorate. How we yearn for more continuity in our lives, elders to tell us how they coped with their troubles, to reminisce about our childhood mischiefs and delight in the joys of their descendants. There is no greater loss in this glossy life we’ve created for ourselves than the void of a nurturing, intergenerational family to share it with. Surely, my own children will want to find their own way in this world, and position themselves to fulfill their own dreams. And how will we thwart them? We will not. But scattered about the world is no place to be when a precious family could be closer by to offer all its riches of hope, support, care, and love; in ways that can only be experienced firsthand and often. This I Believe.