I believe in the value of extended families. My family has more than its share of characters and strong personalities. We have colorful, struggling family members and blue suited conservative family members. We have republicans and democrats who sit down to Thanksgiving dinner together and who name each other in their wills and as potential guardians of their precious children. We have drug addicts and artists, attorneys and CPA’s, scientists and general contractors. Some of our family members live in homes worth half a million dollars. Others live in trailer parks.
When we are gathered in the living room of one or another of us all are equally loved and valued. Those who are struggling or who are lost find hope and wisdom and opportunities that wouldn’t normally be afforded them. Those who are proud or arrogant the other 364 days of the year sit on the floor, holding a drink in their hand discussing vacation bible school memories and the merits of porcupine meatballs or tater-tot casserole.
In a family class and wealth are irrelevant. A cousin earning barely more than minimum wage at a portrait studio breaks bread with a cousin working in the pharmaceutical industry earning well into six figures. Our struggles as parents are collective. Our experiences in growing in, or losing, our faith are universal. Our growth in self-knowledge is not dependant on wealth or education. Our willingness and participation in caring for our aging parents and grandparents – and in our very lucky family, great-grandparents is decidedly not linked to income or social status.
The next generations are free of their parents’ social standing and succeed and fail on their own merits, just as we have. The youthful faces, streaked with tears who were the pall-bearers of at my grandmother’s funeral were a mixed bag of amazing young men. Fathers at 15 and active artists and future business men who spoke with my grandmother, their great grandmother, of faith, and loss and the future before she died. These young men, my extended family, are people I am proud to know and that I am proud to be related to. Young people who stop their busy lives to spend a day grieving with their family for a woman four generations removed are blessings to us all.
In an extended family the burdens are shared across many and the blessings are also shared in staggeringly generous ways. In an extended family the idea of what’s mine is ours is inherent. When a family member passes, or when a new child is born the family comes together to bring those who are far away into the fold. In an extended family neither time nor distance are important. It doesn’t matter if you live next door or a thousand miles away. It doesn’t matter if you spoke this morning or six months ago. In an extended family you belong, always and everywhere. In an extended family you are loved, you love; you are accepted and you accept; you provide wisdom, or you gather it in; you carry a burden or you share one.
I believe that extended families are the great gift we all share. The beautiful, aged faces and hands of our grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles guide and sustain us and the generations who follow. In my family we have experienced the miracle of five generations sharing a holiday and we have experienced the devastating, earth shaking grief when one of our family are lost. We lean on each other, we count on each other both for strength when we need it and for laughter, meals, company and the every day, common requirements of this life; participating in each other’s children’s fund raising activities, filling the audiences at school plays, writing letters of reference , filling the mailboxes at holiday time and providing that common security that not only do we belong, and are we loved, but that we always have many, many people standing behind us, believing in us and cheering us on no matter where life takes us.
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