I have my own Theory of Relativity, and I hope you’ll find it useful, too, as you grow from the tiniest curl of humanity to a venerable old woman. No claim of scientific knowledge here, only an observation on what I think really matters in my small corner of the universe: relationships between people.
Relationships, regardless of economic or social, religious or political status, can be begged, borrowed, and bought; they can be stolen, stumbled upon, forced or freely given; there are also, of course, the clearly genetic sort or the biologically driven. All are valid, and many of them necessary, but none of those fully encompasses the best of what I think defines Family.
For starters, none of those aspects can guarantee a relationship’s ultimate failure or success. Human connexions, like living creatures, can suffer from Failure to Thrive, whether through damaging acts or events or mere neglect. Estrangement is, I think, the perfect name for a lost relationship: what was familiar has somehow changed, become alien. Whether birth, common interests or goals, affinity, or contract is its basis, a relationship can still fail. Or it can flourish.
Family is, for me, the height of relationship, the pinnacle of human interaction. Bloodlines, religion, and legal bonds don’t own it. My view of the ideal, when it comes to family, is that it should spring from an ongoing will to maintain and foster the connection; just keeping it plugged in is useless unless all involved see that it’s well-oiled, reboot it when in need, and occasionally, polish it to a high gleam and rediscover its original beauty.
In my heart and mind, family as that highest form of relationship is an earned status, a privilege. If it doesn’t work in mutuality, with both parties contributing, it’s a different sort of transaction. I don’t see it as a constantly equal balance; in fact, the level of need versus the level of resource and capability in any individual varies greatly over time and situational changes, and the more people in the equation, the more the possible iterations. Sometimes the crisis is virtually universal, everyone called to extraordinary service for each other’s good. The established bond helps bridge those gaps between need and sparse resource in the moment. Happier times and better circumstances, when life is more gracious again, will replenish the void for more balanced give-and-take in days to come. Ebb. Flow.
The crucial elements in all of this have, for me, much more to do with respect, mutual values, friendship, and delight in one another’s company than with lineage, contracts, or societal expectations. I’m a rarity in having both born relatives and married ones that do meet and surpass my standards for true family. Further, I’ve a remarkably expansive extended family, acquired over the years through shared ideas and experiences and the love and respect that grow out of them. I know that with all of these joys, I’m beyond blessed. I have a world-sized circle of good people, both related by DNA and not, surrounding me and, through that, one of the largest and most wonderful of familial relationships possible. I’ve spent years discovering just how wide caring arms reach to embrace me, and how deep open hearts’, minds’, and hands’ resources go, regardless of physical proximity, when anyone anywhere treats me like family.