Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Family

I ran across a curious phrase last week. People on Facebook were posting their pre-Thanksgiving activities which mostly consisted of either cooking or traveling. Then gradually, one by one, they checked out for the holiday and more than one person left with best wishes to their “Facebook family.”

We have finally managed to computerize family.

The morning after Thanksgiving

And I don’t mean that in a bad way. The smaller the world gets by improved communications and easier travel, the more we take on extended relationships with people who are not in the same town. You can now have a relationship with someone you have never met.

Most of my Facebook friends are people I’ve met in person-- some I’ve known for years and some I’ve only known for one week but was impressed enough to want to continue the relationship. But there are still other friends who came to me in an indirect way, by referral you might say. And I don’t even know what their voices sound like. How can you make a family out of people you’ve never even been in the same room with, not even once?

It used to be you married, stayed in the same town, and raised your kids along with their cousins, who might live next door. Life was harder back then when life was built on farming. Families depended on each other more. You either had to help milk the cows or weed the garden that fed the family. One person couldn’t do the job alone so the family worked together to accomplish what had to be done.

Nowadays it’s not unusual for members of a family to live in totally different states and only seeing each other on holidays. You might only get to see your family on vacations.

In the meantime, we have found relationships very much like a family in other places. Most people spend more time with the folks they work with than they do with the people they live with. The work place offers the same dynamics as a family: you work on some sort of common goal akin to keeping the family farm afloat. You have different personalities mixed together who, of necessity, must learn how to live with each other.

One of my daughters’ co-workers joined us for a couple of days during the holiday and we enjoyed having her. She had certainly been vetted more carefully than biology does. Lord, when you give birth to someone you have absolutely no control over who you end up with. Emily, on the other hand, has a great deal of control of who she invites to our family gathering. And Cosalind fit right in as part of our family.

I learned a long time ago that you don’t have to be related to folks to make a family. My father was widowed when I was 14 and he remarried a couple of years later. I gained two brothers in the deal. After Daddy died, my stepmother married Terry who brought three more brothers, including a second one named Don. (Yes, I can say “This is my brother Don and this is my other brother Don.”) By the time my stepmother died and Terry remarried I gave up counting brothers. I was just glad none of them were named Don. And I’m proud I can keep Betty straight: She is my father’s second wife’s third husband’s third wife. And we’re a family.

A friend I made during the Katrina rebuilding called me on Thanksgiving to wish me love. Another one called the day after. Likewise, I read on Facebook from a fellow volunteer that she had received a phone call from Miss Kitty, whom she met when she helped re-build Miss Kitty’s house. That hurricane did some horrible damage but she brought people into each other’s lives in a way nothing else could have done. No other way would I have had a reason to live in one small town in Mississippi for four months and develop the family I had there: Brother Wilf, Sister Jan and so many others. I remember sweltering hot afternoons working so close our sweat would drip on the other’s arms. We were working for a common goal, working from a common love. We were a family.

My church congregation has long been more of a family to me than sometimes my biological one. How many families see each other at least once a week every single week?  And that's not even counting the weddings and funerals.

We started having Womens Retreats about 15 years ago and about the third year the theme was “Sisters in Christ”. From that point on we began referring to each other as “Sister So and So.” I started understanding this term during my annual trips to Guatemala where everyone is called “hermano” or “hermana”, Spanish for brother or sister. And most of the time we’ll just call them by that term without any other name behind it as in “Gracias, hermana.”

The one constant I’m finding in relationships is that a relationship is always under construction. It’s always moving in one direction or the other. You may be born as someone’s sister but things have a way of changing, moving around, growing. Sisters grow into friends. Friends grow into sisters. Facebook becomes a family.

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