Our families can make or break us. Each individual in a family has a designated role – this is especially true in large families. It’s hard to break out of these roles and redefine ourselves as we get older and find our place in the world.
Sometimes we cannot accept these roles as we grow older and attain our rightful place in the world. Such roles may stifle us. Sometimes the toxicity levels of a family are so high that one has to learn to navigate behavior and accept the role or redefine himself to assert guidelines and expectations for how he will be treated.
Sometimes we are blessed with a nuclear family that is also a spiritual family. Biblically speaking there are those we are born to and those we adopt. Those we adopt become our brothers and sisters for life and others just do their part and move on. We cannot choose who we are born to and that can have a negative impact on some lives.
It was “Siblings Day” the other day. My sister posted a family portrait of just the kids during our childhood. They were affectionately called the “ugly” adolescent and childhood years. The days where unruly mop tops and sideburns run a little long, the teeth look a little bigger and don’t fit the face, the awkward gaze of where to look or how to smile comes across.
We were dressed in the seventies styles we laugh at today. The large lapelled floral shirts with the plaid bell bottom pants that could serve as an inflatable device or life-preserver in treacherous waters. Those psychedelic days when fashion created patterns based on tie-dyed glamour — my sisters now questioning their fashion choices — innocence casting shadows of time’s perception and the penetrating realities that we wore what was acceptable for the time to fit in. Nevertheless, the picture delighted my mother for years.
The picture brought it all back. They brought the studio to us and posted the backdrop in our front living room in Buffalo, New York. I remember the day it was taken sometime in the late seventies. I still remember the green shag carpet and the family rocker that sat in front of the large picture window near our first color television. The comfy green couch and overstuffed gold chair. I can almost picture the moment the cameraman said, “Cheese.”
Since then, we’ve endured a great deal together. Tough times and questions that elicited life decisions that weighed heavy. Regrets and silly follies recalled. Laughing, caught in a torrential rain at the beach returning home from a bar, the blizzards where we fought through our cabin fever and bouts of sibling angst playing games, the sweltering summer days where we battled the heat and sleepless nights, falls that prepared us for birthday parties, weddings and the realities of life’s tragedies and said “winters of discontent.”
My sister noted “these are my oldest friends. I wouldn’t want to journey with anyone else.” There is so much time that’s passed, so many experiences where we can speak in short hand, as to what it was like and what we did. The rooms we shared growing up. The people who taught us what we needed for the time. The laughable and cryable moments, secret contexts and silly musings, the characters who have passed through the doors that add lines to the etching that created the mural of our lives.
One’s history and contexts are shaped by the ones they’ve journeyed with. Some Eastern believers have said “We travel in soul clusters.” Those who come into our lives have been there before. There are varied landscapes, new valleys to travel and vistas to explore. Your soul partners are the stabilizing forces that help you in the adventure.
Sometimes we need to seek those people out to help us make the journey, other times we just have to recognize that they are right there and have been making the trek and have your back no matter what. So begins a new climb.
They feed you with care and concern. They give you drink for the days in the desert heat of aloneness. They create a place of comfort in which to grow and realize fully who you are in the world. They attend to your wounds and salve them with empathy.
We cannot escape anything in this world. We are born to experience it all. Our perspective shapes us and that is formed based on our loves and losses, our willingness to engage soulfully in life’s experiences. Our connections to the world form us and carry us through difficulty and help us engage in deeper understanding.
When faced with the greatest challenges that break up families, when those critical decisions need to be made about parents’ care and end of life issues, we agreed to disagree. We each had our own ideas, but the majority ruled out. We respected each other enough to trust that the decisions being made were based on love and not any one pretense in terms of one seeking their own self interests.
What a gift. Our mother’s dying wish was for us to “stay together.” Come hell or highwater, our souls are harnessed to love’s fortunes and misfortunes. I wouldn’t want to be tied to anyone else.