“Where does family come from anyway?” My friend’s eyes were rolling.
We can choose our friends. We can occasionally choose our colleagues and, rarer still, our neighbors.
Aside from a spouse, we can never really choose our family. The people who are supposed to be closest to you, who are supposed to “get you”, who are supposed to stand up for you (and occasionally to you – though that is not always appreciated), who are supposed to be most like you because of biology and genetics – well … there’s just no telling how the planets and parents and DNA aligned when blood became thicker than water.
Family can be our closest friends. They can be complete strangers. And they can be completely strange.
Because our relatives generally hang in with us, we often use these people as dumpsters and forget to use them as mentors, as role models to aspire to be like – or, on occasion, to not be anything like.
We forget that we need to watch our words, to nurture feelings, to not take advantage.
We get sloppy. We get careless. We assume too much.
And we tantrum, storm off, and rage at the injustices – real or imagined.
Family isn’t easy. There is often an unspoken history that predates any relatives you can remember by name when the branches of the family tree got more and more leaf-covered. And then there is the history of unresolved grudges and wrong doings that is far too current – ranging from last week to our toddler years to BoB (before our birth).
As children we observe the nuances with innocence and curiosity. As adults, we scratch our heads and debate the possibilities of not being related at all. (And sometimes, we find ourselves wishing we could be un-related.)
Occasionally, we joke with friends and colleagues about “the family” and don’t need to exaggerate their idiosyncrasies. Rarer still do we speak of the truths to even the most trusted of outsiders except in a whispered confession: “My family is … well, strange. Very strange. All/most/some of them. Trust me.” And our confessor nods with compassion. They understand. Completely.
Because here’s the funny thing and it is shocking: Everyone’s family is odd in some way. And often odder than our own – which brings a certain amount of relief, doesn’t it?
People are pretty forgiving when it comes to other people's families. The only family that ever horrifies you is your own.
So why do we whisper it? Don’t we all have our own version of an unusual uncle? of a silent sibling? of a meandering, philandering cousin? of the never-can-do-any-wrong perfect (except for the ghosts in her closet) niece? Just change up the relationship and you’ll find them somewhere in your tree.
And we cannot forget that someone in our family is pointing to our own twig of the family tree and proclaiming our own unique nuttiness with a certain amount of humor and shoulder shrugs – right or wrong. We are their version of “go figure”. <Sigh and say it isn’t so!>
If only we talked about our trees to our friends. If only we laughed with our doctors, lawyers, bus drivers, and customer service reps, as we swapped stories and secrets, changing relatives’ names (or our own). If only we could understand that our family’s curiosities are not all that curious after all.
Because I think we have it backwards. I think:
We don’t see the trees for the forest.
We need to know everyone else’s family/tree to understand that we are all part of this bigger oddball forest called the human race.
The truth is that each and every tree in our collective human forest has some bizarrely twisted branches with more, shall we say, strange and colorful and utterly underappreciated leaves.
My family? We’ve got our share of vibrant hues and beautifully swooping branches throughout the tree. And, I’m glad to laugh and love and be bewildered. But, looking across the forest, I’d say we were not alone in our style.