Long ago a priest told me that the story of Jesus’ final days on earth was an example of the ups and downs of human existence. He noted that Jesus entered Jerusalem as a hero with crowds cheering him and creating a carpet of palms for him to walk upon. By the end of the same week he had been betrayed by a friend, abandoned by his closest disciples and tried and convicted as a political criminal. As he was dying a brutal death on a cross the only people willing to be present for him were his mother, a cousin, a woman follower of sometimes questionable reputation and a complete stranger. Many who had only recently cheered him now taunted him and some who had been closest to him denied even knowing him.
Such it often unfolds in our own lives. Over the entirety of our time on this earth acquaintances come and go, friendships sometimes disappoint, our popularity rises and falls until over time we think we have a good idea of who might be at our sides through the best and the worst of our days. More often than not family members are the core of those on whom we know that we may depend, especially our mothers and fathers who seem to love us no matter how imperfect we are.
I saw the cycle of relationships unfold rather dramatically with my mother, an outgoing and generous woman who seemed to always be surrounded by people who loved her. She was the woman in the neighborhood and at church whom people trusted with their hidden feelings. Her door was always open and people flocked to her until the quirks of her mental illness made her more difficult to understand. One by one people became too uncomfortable with her depression or manic outbursts to keep visiting or even talking with her on the phone. They offered excuses for not accepting her party or dinner invitations. Her world shrank to a small group of ever faithful friends and family members who refused to abandon her even as her mind became more riddled and confused. Most of those who truly loved her were her brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and of course her children and grandchildren who stood by her no matter how dark her changing moods became.
For the majority of us family is the constant in a world of variables. By the time one reaches an age like mine the hangers on and flatterers have been culled and the people who really care are apparent. They are the ones who will sit with us in an ICU, comfort us when life feels cruel, check on us when we seem not to be ourselves, love us even when we have difficulty loving ourselves. At the center of our shrinking sphere of influence is family, people who know us better than anyone and still accept or at least overlook all of our many flaws.
Family has provided me with rock solid support from the moment that my father died when I was a very young child. My mother was my number one fan, a woman who cheered me on when I was a winner and hugged me when I failed. Until the moment she died she was ever present with her unconditional love. I still miss her random unannounced visits when she would gleefully honk her horn in my driveway to announce that she had come bearing gifts of food or plants or ideas for how to spend a sunny day when I might otherwise have stayed home. I long for her birthday cakes and quirky gifts and the sound of her voice singing Happy Birthday with the memory of my coming into this world that only she would ever fully understand.
My brothers have been fellow travelers with me through thick and thin. As we grew and went our independent ways the bond that we forged as children stayed as strong as ever. Now it is extended to my sisters-in-law and my nieces and nephews. We form an ever growing circle that feels unbreakable. It takes little more than a phone call or text to rally all of them to my side. I feel their genuine warmth and love and know that I am never really alone.
All but one of my aunts and uncles are now gone. It has fallen to my cousins to keep our once large and raucous extended family together. The clan has grown so large that some of us do not really know each other. Still there is a solid group of us who once laughed and played together at our grandmother’s house on Friday nights. Each of us has seen more of all sides of life than we might have wished. We may not get together as frequently as we once did and in fact often wish that we would not wait for weddings or retirement parties or funerals to take the time to visit once again. Still when we do rally the feelings that we have always had come back to the fore and our links are strong again.
Then of course there are those closest to me, my husband and my daughters and sons-in-law and grandchildren. They are my strength, my pride, my joy. We can be totally open and honest and still not break the ties that bind us together. We laugh and cry with the ups and downs of daily life. We create our family history together, a story that is still unfolding minute by minute.
Family matters to each of us. We hold each member tightly in a special place of our hearts. We love them whether they are almost perfect or perfectly flawed. In a world that can sometimes feel cruel and without compassion if we are really lucky we will have a family that embraces us just as we are.