Friends and Family

Friends and Family
The phrase “friends and family” presumes a few things. Together they comprise the close group, the group of personal privilege. You invite friends and family to intimate affairs, to weddings, to anniversaries, they are the expected group. But they are not the same. To be sure, some friends are so close, they seem like family, but the ultimate difference is that you chose your friends, your family you’re stuck with.

I’ve been thinking about this and the subtle problems that it suggests. Some people choose a lot. In addition to being shopaholics, they collect everything and let go of nothing. The closets are full, the garage is full, the spare bedrooms are no longer bedrooms, and they are full as well. In addition, their Christmas card list is several feet long, every weekend is someone’s special anniversary, birthday, wedding… Their social calendar isn’t special, it’s everyday, and it’s full. Lots of maintenance when you have lots of friends. And remember, these are selected folks, chosen amongst the wandering groups of humanity. They are your friends.

And what about family? It could be that you have a few children, and eventually they have children, and if you live long enough you are the patriarch or matriarch of a clan. It could be that one or both of your parents had multiple siblings and when they begin to have children the extended clan becomes a mathematical explosion. And all these people are not chosen, they have been given to you, along with their spouses, regardless of your wishes or choices in life. They are your family.

Well, I have recently come face to face to this issue. It appears I haven’t chosen friends for about…maybe fifty years. I think I’ve done pretty good with close acquaintances, but friends? Hmm, not so much. Not only that, but I do little to maintain the friendships that I do have. An annual check-in, a long lunch twice a year. It’s good, like no time has passed, but it has. Children have grown up and moved away before you have even known them. I am a pathetic friend.

I’m worse with family, better with immediate family. But extended family? Cousins, nephews, uncles, aunts. My parents were the glue, with both of them gone, the various parts of the family are flung off to distant lands. Except some of them are no more than an hour away. An hour away, and yet I treated it as if it took an airline ticket with three layovers.

Besides, I didn’t choose these people, I was stuck with them. Now, mind you that I didn’t think these things directly, I’m not that much of a jerk, but I wasn’t proactive enough to visit. I am a pathetic relative.

Then a light bulb illuminates.

This month I organized a photographic fieldtrip to a nearby town on the edge of some remarkable photographic possibilities. I was encouraging my former students to join me for a day of shooting, and I used Facebook as one of the means to tell them about it. It went well and several said they would love to take the small trip in order to get the photos.

I also was reminded that I had relatives in the area. One of my second cousins had gently reminded me on Facebook that her family lived 500 yards from where I had asked my students to meet me. They had been there almost forty years, and I had never visited once. She was very kind, she didn’t even try to organize a meeting, she just stated the obvious. We are here, not far from where you plan to meet people!

Hmm, back to the truth. I’m a pretty good teacher, I provide interesting field trips. But I’m a pathetic friend and even worse relative. But even a dense person like me asked if it might be possible to meet up. That was all it took. An invitation for family to get together. Different people, stuck with each other but sharing some DNA. We met and it went well, no, better than that, it was great!

As it turns out we share more than a few strands of DNA, memory and we share family history. We spoke of cowgirls, and tragic deaths, family myths of a favorite uncle who in later years became a button snatcher… Different backgrounds but coming to many of the same places. It reminded me that while it is true that I didn’t choose family, someone higher did, and gave them to me as a gift.

Okay, okay, I know this is idealized, I know that many people have horrible relatives that have done horrible things. But that’s not what I have experienced first hand. I’m related to interesting, kind, and very open people. I just hope they saw that in me as well. Because I’m mostly a pathetic friend, and even more pathetic relative.

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