Thursday, January 03, 2008

My People

I was born into a family of occupiers and refugees, of natives and foreigners, of engagement and apathy, of openness and bigotry, of poetry and nascar. Growing up, I always felt like I inhabited some kind of midland that was neither German nor American, neither of my mother's people nor my father's. I suppose my sensibilities lean more toward that of my mother's people. My maternal grandmother sold her wedding ring when they were refugees during the war to buy food for her children. My paternal grandmother beat her sons with heavy duty flashlights and wooden shoes. She referred to her son's immigrant wife as "the foreigner" and told his little girl "You have eyes just like your father's [and I do!], they could stare a hole in a brick wall." If this taught me anything, it is that blood does not always bind. The family you want is not always the one you get - sometimes, but not always.

One of the greatest epiphanies of my life was that we have the power to create our own communities, that family can be intentional. As we move through life, communities change, but family (and I mean of the heart and not necessarily of the blood - though one certainly doesn't preclude the other) is always there. I really do believe that some of our relationships are not meant to last a lifetime. Sometimes we develope passing (but not necessaily insignficant) friendships with individuals who are only meant to be with us for a short while before going off on their separate paths. But, then, there are others who are meant to accompany us throughout our journey in a deeper way.

These are the people who offer to come over and clean up the detritus left behind by the paramedics when your father has a heart attack, bring soup when you're sick, and help you move. They bring your favorite mint milanos when you're having a bad day and cheer you on when you're having a good one. They encourage creativity and expression of self, and they know you'll do the same for them. They make you feel comfortable taking your crazy out from under the bushel where you normally hide it, because you know their crazy too. Intimately. In fact, your crazies have been on parade together, dancing a manic tango down Main Street. They may live close or thousands of miles away, but their mere presence in your life augments it. And even when you haven't seen them for ages, when you finally do get together, it's like you've neve been apart. Sometimes they nag, sometimes they even annoy you, but deep down they make you feel you are loved not for what you do or what you have, but simply for who you are. And I would take that over some DNA or a knock on the head with a flashlight any day!


Wendy said...

Wow, I'm making a copy of this to send to blood family when I explain why I don't share my life with them so much anymore! Beautifully written. This could be published to a wider audience.


Donna said...

Yes, thanks for the beautiful expression and illustration of chosen family and the challenges of biological relatives!

Anonymous said...

Can I trade in "the woman who is not my aunt" aka "the hairy faced troll" for you?

Martina said...

Wendy: Thank you for the comment. It really touches me that you want to use my words to help explain. And THANK YOU for all the writing prompts and encouragement! It's only been a few days, but they have been huge in keeping me motivated.

Donna: Thanks to you too for reading and for the kind words.

Anonymous Niece or Nephew: Sure! You know, I too have a hairy aunt with a lot of questionable ideas about the world. Maybe we could hook them up. ;-)