For the most part I am realistic about my connections to people. I don’t call acquaintances friends and I don’t mistake friends for family, however close we might be or how precious I count them.
For many years I was bereft of family. My mother shrank from relationships, shriveling emotionally until she reduced herself to a voluntary shut-in, even pinning cloth to the bottom of her curtains as if to ensure privacy. My heart ached for her and for the years of loss of family she engineered –not just for herself but for me.
The truncation of family intensified after my parents divorced when I was twelve. Not only did my mother retreat even further into her personal isolation, any lingering connection to my father’s family in Switzerland was denounced. Tight lipped and cynical, my mother’s words were consistent and final: They do not exist.
I understood her hatred of my father. Although I didn’t hate him, I feared him –but Switzerland I loved! So began my recurring dreams of me flying like Peter Pan’s Wendy. Except I flew high above alpine meadows over a land that to me was far more alluring than where pirates, Indians, little boys and a crocodile held sway. It would be fifty years before I was able to fly there in reality to reclaim a connection to the one remaining member of my father’s immediate family.
An artist and poet, somewhere in her youth my mother became wounded and fragile, then defensive and bitter. Wearing her pain like a garland of resentments, she inadvertently crafted a yoke of sorrow and rancor from which she never recovered. I was paralyzed by her negativity and could not find it in myself to try to connect to family while she remained alive. By the time she passed just before her 84th birthday, the trail was cold and even though I scolded myself, I remained inert.
A lovely peacefulness now resides inside me. I am surrounded by a vibrant and growing family in the persons of my children and their spouses and their children –my grandchildren. And at least one side of my roots is intact. I am in possession of a marvelous family tree upon which are written the ten generations of my Swiss heritage going back to the mid 1500’s. Only my mother’s side of the family remains unexplored. Though I have begun to try to trace them tentatively through Ancestry.com, it still feels like I’m reaching into an empty cookie jar –without permission.
I enjoy and value interactions with my neighbors, workmates, colleagues, and most especially my friends. Each person holds a unique place in my life. However, I do not splash them with colors not their own. Meaning that though I will forever miss not having a relationship with my mother that I so desperately wanted and needed, I am not looking for a mother figure to fill in for her. So I treasure my relationship with a lovely woman in her early 90’s as positively one of my dearest friends.
The only father I ever needed turned out to have many names, some of the most familiar being Jehovah, Yahweh, Elohim, Allah, Supreme Being –and my favorite as a battered and abandoned young woman: Abba, which literally means “Daddy”.
Though my sister died tragically before I could enjoy an adult relationship with her, I do not seek her replacement. Rather, I luxuriate in the present closeness shared with local women –who to a person acknowledges our global sisterhood with all women, many of whom remain shackled by unenlightened creeds and customs.
Lastly, my brother who is basically nonfunctional emotionally and physically, does not create a “brother space available” placard on the lawn of my heart. One of the online definitions of brother by Merriam-Webster is “one related to another by common ties or interests” –so I am adequately covered there!
Having said all this, at the end of the day as I think about family and friends I am reminded of a lovely quote by Ram Dass:
We’re all just walking each other home.