Wednesday, December 29, 2010

La Familia

Beve, the girls and I left our berg yesterday for a day in the emerald city.  SK's birthday is 22 days from now, when she'll be back behind the pine-cone curtain, so we bought her gifts she actually picked out yesterday.  It was a fun afternoon, punctuated by lunch at a wonderful Indian restaurant with the best service we've ever experienced.  Bar none!  Free mango lassees, free appetizers, refills on our chai as soon as we'd taken a single sip and no less than four different servers hovering at our table.  If we'd been the only patrons in the place, one might have expected this, but the joint was hopping. And the food was good.  Very good.

But the real destination yesterday was my aunt's house for a dinner with seven of my cousins and their families. Quite the crowd, you might be thinking.  But I'll remind you that the eight of us are merely a third of our generation in our large, crazy family.  We've been sharing holiday dinners in that house since I was a small child, and I swear there have always--ALWAYS--been a passel of small children running through the rooms.  This might have something to do with the fact that there are 24 years between the oldest and youngest cousins in our generation.  My cousin Ben (who turns 31 today) is a mere 16 months older than my oldest nephew.  And at one point last night, a couple of the little ones, who are second cousins to each other and to my children, ran through the living room, looked straight at my single daughters and said, "Excuse us, parents," which cracked up the room, and gave E and SK scare.  I think they felt like they should run to the bathroom to check for gray hairs on the spot!

For me, though, the night was all about the connection I feel with that group of people whom I share genes with.  They're 'our people', as one cousin reminded us.  My grandmother drilled that phrase firmly into our skulls--that the world was divided neatly and clearly into 'them' and 'us'.  When we get together, the old stories come out.  Some Most of these stories revolve around our grandmother, which isn't surprising.   She was the matriarch who ruled with manipulation and favoritism, list-holding and criticism.  And yet, for all those negative things I listed, when she turned her light on a person, especially a small child, that light was blinding.  Magnetizing.  It was only as we got older that we realized what ugliness was also contained within that blinding light.  Grandmomie--yep, that's what we called her/call her--was present in the living room last night, as we laughed about things that used to make us crazy.  Hurtful words that made us cry, the lists she kept of offenses.  Yes, old stories.  There was a new wife in the room last night and a new girlfriend, and we thought it only right to initiate them to the family in the proper way, by explaining what it's like to marry into this big sorry mess.  I have to say I almost never laugh as loudly and freely as I do around these people. In fact, sometimes I laugh so freely, so loudly, that I dang near get up on tables and dance.  I don't know why, there's just something about them that just brings out the ham in me.'s also true that though we are family, we have many differences.  Significant differences.  I was shocked last night to realize--again--how deep those differences run.  How little they really get me.  At one point we were talking about a conversation I had with Grandmomie when I was in college, and I spoke of having been very innocent at that age.  There was a loud burst of disavowal in the room, and one cousin even said, "Yeah, and who's the one who went to India with her boyfriend?"  Really?  REALLY?  One of my girls tried to say, "But that was a mission," and nobody seemed to even hear. They see the world from within their own worldview and that colors everything.

What is so funny (as in sad, not even remotely funny) is how long I've been both praying for them and aiming to 'be' Christ in the midst of my cousins.  When I was in my teens and a young believer, I tried both the 'in-your-face' method of sharing Christ with them, which didn't reap much harvest, and many more subtle approaches.  I remember being at our cabin at Whidbey Island and intentionally reading my Bible late into the night.  I was certain one of my relatives would come into the bunk room and ask me about it.  However, day after day I awakened with my face pressed into my open Bible.  No conversations ever resulted from my machinations.  NOT a ONE.  At some point along the way I stopped.  Stopped the straight on, stopped the sideways, stopped the every-which-way attempts to 'save' my family.  I placed them in God's hands and began to enjoy them for who they are.  Sure, I miss who they might be, who they could be.  See, they're all very smart, well-educated, interesting people...with whom I have these simple things in common.  Things like blood and family.  Things like 'our people' and 'us' that will only last until the dust settles, after all. 

While these days last, I'll enjoy my kith and kin (whatever that means), and be glad that we have what we have together.  It's enough.  For the rest?  Spiritual kith and kin for the meat I need when laughing stops.  And prayer that one day 'our people' will be both.

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