I’ve been immersing myself in fluffy romance books the past few days, and while I’d done so with the intention of taking some respite from the world around me, the Universe, it seems, had other plans. I’ve been reading Sherryl Woods’s Chesapeake Shores series (lovely reading, btw) – all love stories of some variety set in a split up and somewhat estranged family with subplots revolving around reconciliation. Consequently, instead of light and relaxing reading, my cloudy thoughts have drifted to my own family of origin, our disagreements and subsequent semi-estrangement, the people I call family now, and the concept of family in general.
My sister and I have been at odds for a long time. She didn’t weather my coming out as Pagan 7 years ago very well, but she eventually got to the point where she could tolerate it. When I came out as bi and poly (simultaneously just about) a few years later, however, she had a much more difficult time. I’d had less contact with my parents in those interim years especially, tension at an all-time high as they dealt with their own anger and grief that I had seemingly strayed so far from who they’d hoped I would turn out to be, and confusion at how that had all come about due to the fact that I’d cloaked my thoughts and ideas from them when historically, they were who I had turned to. I knew at the time that their staunch disapproval could be stronger than my own inner wisdom that the path I was walking was best for me. The only solution I found before I came out and then afterward for a while was to withdraw from them, from their judgment, from the questions they would ask (and eventually did) that I either had, at worst, no answer to or, at best, no answers that would make sense to them. As for my sister, her stance wasn’t that different from theirs. Our relationship had never been very strong due to our striking differences that have always led to clashes in personality and interaction, and it proved too weak to handle the news. Looking back at it now, I can see where they were coming from – thinking I’d joined a cult because they probably couldn’t come up with anything else to explain my alienating them or what appeared to be a sudden shift in my thinking and life choices. It was extremely difficult for me to communicate with them calmly when I was working through such extreme emotions myself. I didn’t handle it well. I didn’t have everything sorted out, and my determination to follow what I knew in my belly was right – regardless of how convaluted or disastrous it looked on the outside – was simply viewed as me, following a track record I’d set in high school and early college, being impulsive or listening only to my heart without thinking. Consequently, my parents interaction with me was little different from what it had been when I was 16 or 17 – laced with patronizing and condescending tones and demonstrating little regard and respect for my autonomy and ability to think and choose for myself. And while I think all parents (at least the halfway decent ones) want what is best for their child, ideally there comes a time when the parent realizes they’ve done what they could and relinquishes those reins to their child. I’m pretty sure my parents never got that memo.
Over the past couple years, my relationship with them has been whittled down to an increasingly smaller number of safe topics of conversation: school and work. Everything else – what has and continues to matter most to me – is taboo. My sister has had no tolerance or understanding that my partners and our kids are just as much my family to me as her husband and my nephew are to her and has, consequently, been quick to throw in my face that I’ve abandoned my ‘family’ for “those people.” She and the rest of my family of origin have been on my mind over the past few days as I’ve read these books, mourned what currently is, dared to hope for some type of reconciliation some day, and reflected on how I define family.
Family are the people who accept you for who you are, warts and all; the people who support you when the rest of the world takes pot shots, pointing out your abundant flaws. They call you on your shit if need be, and when they do so, it is unmistakably from a place of love – not from a place of needing to be right or to belittle you or cast judgments. They respect your freedom to choose for yourself. They are present not just when everything is bright and rosy, but in those darkest of days when everything looks or is broken and scattered to help you put the pieces back together again, and in a way that you want – not what they want. Your happiness and well-being are their greatest wishes for you, and they recognize they’re not in charge of how that gets defined or what it looks like. They listen, give you space to grow and to change, and to become whoever it is that you decide you want to be and take joy in who you are. They help you find your Self when you’re lost. Family takes you in when no one else will. Blood does not make a family. Intention, love, compassion, respect, and understanding make a family. It is an honor not to be taken lightly. When you area member of such a family, there is no score sheet kept, only the soul-level promise of sacred reciprocity, love, and support.
Through the course of the eviction proceeding we experienced, my brother-in-law (my wife’s husband’s brother), despite being newly in the process of a tangled divorce, invited my family – all six of us – into his home to live virtually rent-free while we work to get back on our feet. Each day, our girls shower me with hugs and kisses and ‘I love you’s,’ some times for no reason at all except that “it looked like I needed it.” Our son trusts me to give him pointers on singing (despite my lack of formal training) and makes himself vulnerable to and with me by asking for my feedback, in spite of the difficulty he has with women in authority due to being abused by his step-grandmother who helped raise him. L consistently and with amazing patience puts up with my irritability and crankiness and, at least once a week, pauses to give me a hug and tell me how grateful he is I am a part of our family. What amazing gifts these people are to me, and I have taken them for granted for too long. There are a few more I want to recognize and to whom I wish to express my gratitude:
My Beloved and I received a gift from one of those amazing individuals who I have come to call family, despite our not yet having met face to face, yesterday. It was a gift of encouragement and support, one of Love, Grace, Well-Being, Peace, and Abundance. Your very presence in my world is a gift, Grace. Though no words can fully capture my gratitude to you and the sacredness with which I hold our bond, I honor and love you like a sister (should). I give you my loyalty and my pledge to support you in whatever way I am able, whenever you need. Thank you for being my sister.
I have another “sister,” one who I met and was roommates with my senior year in college. Jenn, from our days at the Big Easy to living in different states, through all my explorations and changes and coming outs, you have been present. You have loved me, accepted me, and supported me through the most enormous changes in my life as well as called me on my shit and reminded me of who I am when I’ve gotten lost. Your continued friendship and unconditional support are one of the reasons I have not given up or gone crazy. I love you, and I cherish you, and I am so blessed to have you in my world. Whenever, wherever, whatever – for you I am here. Thank you for being my sister.
Since my mother has not had it in her to be what I needed as a mother, the Divine blessed me with a surrogate in the form of my favorite Aunt. Phoebe, love, to me, you are a face of She Who Was Before All That Is. You have blessed me so abundantly by being the Mother that I didn’t have but have always dreamed and desperately prayed for. Your unconditional love and acceptance and guidance have continuously reignited my hope that it will all be all right as well as my faith in the Divine and my Self. There is not a more precious gift you could give me. You have my loyalty and love and devotion. I love you and honor you for everything that you are with everything that I am. Thank you for being a Momma to me.
There is one more. Beloved, you have given me the greatest gifts I could ever hope for. You taught me about Her and helped me to re-member how to connect with Her and how to get Home. You bless me every day with the amazing honor of sharing your Self with me and fighting and working to stay here. You created my family and made me a part of it. You have put up with my shit life time after life time, calling me on it when necessary, but otherwise giving me the freedom, time, and space to find my way back to my Self and holding infinite trust and faith that I can get there. You are evidence to me that unconditional love is not only possible, but that it exists because you live it every day. I am so unbelievably honored to share my Self and my life with you. And I will spend the rest of forever honoring you. You have my eternal love, devotion, loyalty, committment, and gratitude. Each day, every day, all ways and always. Thank you 4711 for being and for being my Beloved.