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Shifting Sands of FamilyFebruary 8, 2007

Shifting Sands of Family

A Default Model
Tradition and instinct mandate loyalty to family. Short of the individual, family is the basic fabric that holds society intact and cohesive. But what exactly is family? Blood? Common adage says blood is thicker than water. I guess when we come out of this world, we default to our primal instinct - family being blood in varying levels of the extended family hierarchy. It works. It's an alliance you're born into. You don't even have to earn it - safety in numbers as you brave into an increasingly competitive and sometimes hostile world. The self-sacrifice, support and sympathy of the individual members collectively ensure the well-being of the family.

Carrying a Cross
But what if the working model fails? What is now family? I've listened to elders as they candidly talk about simple life stories, usually over a few drinks when they loosen up. Lots of lessons to be learned here - betrayals, forgiveness, dependence and co-dependence. What strikes me, and leaves an indelible mark, are the ones who unconditionally support blood members despite sustained duplicituous actions against them. They carry that burden throughout their lives almost in complete resignation. Why? Because it's blood? If that's the case, then blood is overrated.

I've also seen ostensible blood-friendships rooted in markers - "I'll do you this unsolicited favor. Unbeknownst to you, acceptance means forfeiture of your right to say 'no' to me...I now own you". Surprisingly, people stay within such controlling relationships. Is it blood again that keeps them together?

Life Lessons
As I've taken the counsel of elders who've seen more seasons than I have, I've come to realize that on a subconscious level, I wasn't taking them as merely entertaining narrative but as life lessons honed and rough-hewn in the battle grounds of asset-ownership, sibling rivalry and jealousy, spanning the broad spectrum from the heroic side of the human spirit to its dark side.

Traveling Light
My own life experience simply validates all that. In sharp contrast, I've met people who've openned up their doors and have taken me into their orbit, with nothing in exchange for it (or so it seems). Not a big fan of a free meal, I reciprocate in the way I can, when I can. Some have become life-long friends. Other people ended up collecting markers. The latter, needless to say, are now historical footnotes - baggage I don't care to carry with me. It's best that way. Let's just say I travel light.

Ending Thoughts
What then is family to me? Family are the people who unconditionally support me and look after my well-being, in the same way I go out of my way to look after their's. These are the people I will defend and protect...these are the people I pledge my fierce loyalty to. It has nothing to do with blood. In fact, I've walked away from blood and I'm better off for it (that is not to say that on other occasions, I'd been contrained to walk away from blood with a very heavy heart - and it's got nothing to do with markers).

People are dynamic. Their needs and priorities change over time. With that, relationships likewise change. Who used to be family to me 3 years ago, I may now avoid like a plague. I don't harbor any deluded sentimentality about family when it becomes its own liability. A passing acquaintance can now be a staunch ally. As I leave other people's orbit, new ones come into mine, shaping the new landscape in this perpetual cycle.

There are acquaintances, friends and there is family - but all in the context of here and now. Tomorrow is another day. There is no past and no expectation for the future. Nothing is forever. Family is good only while it works, so every moment counts.

As I write this, I take solace and comfort in the family I keep, whose arms around me assure me it's the safest place in the world. Family is cause for celebrating life.

--- TheLoneRider

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