“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” ~ Dalai Lama.
As a young child, I was used to family get-togethers surrounded by cousins. On my father’s side I had nine cousins, and on my mother’s side I had 7, and when you added either of those to the five kids in my own family, you can imagine the crowd. Unfortunately, the adventure of moving from the UK to Jamaica when I was seven meant that I did not have many opportunities for those get-togethers after that. Moving to Miami after I finished high school meant that I have not had many opportunities to meet up with these cousins in my adult life.
One of my nieces (and I had plenty of those, too!) once told a story of growing up in the north of England. She was a member of a ‘steel pan’ group – and loved playing those unique island music-makers. It is lovely to see how humans can take trash (an old steel barrel) and fashion it into an instrument of music. She mentioned that she could never understand how her other band-mates (most of whom had parents who had emigrated from the West Indies to the UK) all claimed to be cousins. Even though their parents did not even come from the same island!
I realized that in Jamaica, the term ‘cousin’ was very loosely applied. When someone would introduce a cousin, and I would try to get the details, I would often hear something like: ‘Well, her mother must call my grandmother auntie’. What? And if you are a detail oriented person, you may try to work it out and say something which no Jamaican has ever said: ‘Oh, you mean she is your third cousin, twice removed?’ ‘No – she’s my cousin!’ And since many Jamaican children grow up calling their parents’ friends ‘Auntie’ and ‘Uncle’, you can imagine how far the family links can spread!
The thing about family, love them or hate them, is that you’re stuck with them. I know you can read all sorts of things about toxic relationships and distancing yourself from unhealthy relationships, but for most of us, family means an unconditional acceptance. There is a certain understanding that comes with knowing someone’s background, understanding their story.
My own kids grew up without their first cousins being geographically close to them. Fortunately, they had another set (whose grandmother must call their grandfather uncle!) who lived close by. They spent Thanksgivings and other family occasions together, and still get together whenever they can.
I have been thinking about family, and forgiveness, recently. We have finally moved from one administration to another, after an ugly four years. The deepest divisions in society have been exposed, along with all of the consequences of those divisions. What is sad is that there are many people (mostly white) who have benefited from white privilege, from an intrinsic advantage by virtue of their skin color, and who still do not see the need for a huge correction to take place. There are many people (again mostly white) who are even more explicit in their opinion that that inherent inequality should be maintained, even when it is at the expense of people of color.
When we view each other as family, since in fact we are all members of the human family, could we possibly begin to change? Is it possible to talk to someone who believes that you are inherently inferior as if they are that eccentric uncle who goes off at Thanksgiving dinner? Of course, the reality is that there is a core of such people who have shown that they are willing to use any means necessary to achieve their goals. I am sure that trying to convince them that they are dangerously wrong is not a conversation that will end well.
But there is power in numbers, and I believe that the vast majority of human beings are good people, with compassion and empathy in their hearts. In the recent display of violence and insurrection, we have heard countless stories of neighbors and friends submitting evidence to identify the perpetrators. We have even seen the children of these adults ‘outing’ their parents. And it may be that the younger generation will be the one to lead the way.
This Friday morning I am far away from home, writing this on an unfamiliar computer without a mouse, which I find frustrating as sometimes my hand touches the pad and whole paragraphs disappear in a second. It is an exercise in patience, and all I keep learning is that I am still a very impatient person! But when we imagine a world without technology, we cannot even begin to think how we would be able to accomplish the things we can do today with the click of a mouse, with a key stroke.
Let us hope that this year will be the year that the Family of Man begins to heal, recognizing that we are all on planet earth together and we have a responsibility to do better for future generations. And may you have a grand get-together with all of your cousins, one of these days! Have a great weekend, Family!