Sometimes thinking about family feels a little like thinking about the Grand Canyon, it’s almost too big and vast and deep to comprehend.
I’m not sure if there’s another word in the English language that is so loaded and so full of juxtapositions as the word family (well, maybe the word love, but I think there might be some connection there). When I looked up the dictionary definition, it was one of the most pathetic and unsatisfying meanings I had ever seen. It was a meaningless meaning, if such a thing is possible.
The Google dictionary definition of a family is: a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household.
Does that mean a couple without children has no family? Is a single person isolated in the world?
Like the Grand Canyon, family has so many layers. Layers of people, of history of thoughts and expectations. There is the family you are born into and then the family you grow as you age and bring people into your world.
My youngest sister and her partner came and visited for a couple of days this past week and it was lovely, comfortable and easy. It was easy to hang out with them and easy to forget that we are practically strangers.
Even though Katie is my sister, we only lived in the same city for the first two years of her life. I remember when she was born, I remember her as a little ball of energy bouncing and cartwheeling all over the house.
When I was 14 and she was 2, it was impossible to imagine that one day we would both be grown ups. We have probably seen each other about twenty days in the last twenty years and yet there is no doubt that Katie is my sister.
We were not involved in many of the same adventures, and yet we still share many of the same stories. There is an overriding herstory that binds our lives regardless of how much time or blood we have in common.
When I reflect on my family, I think about how the layers of shared people, stories and experiences bring us together and help us to understand each other. I also think about how our expectations and assumptions can pull us apart.
Years of TV shows and Hollywood movies have set up an expectation of what a family should be. Each role is defined by an idealistic and stereotypic idea of what it means to be a mother, a brother or a step-parent.
The problem is that each member of our family is also many other things to many other people. We are all wrapped up in this complex world of trying to fulfill all of our roles to others, while somewhere along the line still having the chance to figure out who we are and who we want to be for ourselves.
I have never been to the Grand Canyon, but I imagine that being able to turn our expectations of our family into acceptance of our family is like the difference between wandering lost in the canyon in the midday heat or gazing out at the spectacle while sitting comfortably on a picnic blanket at the top. Perspective makes all the difference.