The Alchemy of Family


I’ve been thinking about family.

I think about the people tethered to me by DNA and commitment.

I think about the woman who gave birth to me – my mother – a woman who is mentally ill and incapable of mothering. She left a mother-shaped hole in my heart, a hole that I roughly patched with my mothering to my children as I hobble along.

I think about my father-in-law who has shown no interest in meeting his 16-month old granddaughter – the last grandchild he will have – presumably because we  have a different politics than him.

I think about the people who owe me very little or nothing and yet have saved me.

I think about my sister-in-law and her husband who, when their scheduled visit coincided with our extended electricity outage, voluntarily descended into darkness to be with us. She was the bearer of fun flashlights and a resilient attitude. Her simple gesture meant the world to us, and set the tone for a week of campfires under the stars in nights unpolluted by light. Family.

I think about friends – some at a distance – who did not hesitate to offer our family refuge when we needed it. They opened their homes to our family without reservation, just as we would for them. They lift us up with their unwavering support and kind perspective. Family.

I think about our church. When doors closed on our pleas for support during my second pregnancy, our church lifted us up. Fourteen families made meals for us at least one time. Several families took Sunboy for an afternoon of play at least one time. This was done so that I could rest and continue my incubation of Flowergirl. Family.

I think about two friends who have professed their love for us and our children, who consider themselves our children’s grandparents in accordance with their actions. They cared for Sunboy for three days and nights while I was in the hospital undergoing a difficult labor induction. They chided us that we didn’t tell them how we were living during five days without heat in the middle of winter. This week, they had us spend the day in their home during an electricity outage so that we would be warm. It was a difficult time for them to offer this to us and yet I bathed Flowergirl in their home and they fed us. They have taken care of us when we needed it without questions, without guilt and without hesitation. They are steadfast. “You are family to us”, they say. Yes, family.

Relatives. Friends. Family.

Friends and relatives are based on DNA. If your DNA is similar to our DNA then you are a relative. If your DNA is not similar to our DNA then you are not a relative, possibly a friend. Legal action can create the same relationships as DNA through adoption and marriage. Relatives and friends.

Family is alchemy of people from both groups. Simple relationships are transformed into something impenetrable, defiantly sustainable and priceless. Family is a mutual psychological transmutation that bonds individuals. The bond is forged and tempered by the fire of difficult times.

Family is based on relationship, not relatedness. Family is the choice to be there to support each other, the feeling of bondedness by mutual commitment and trust.

Who is your family? When the wagons are circled, where does a certain relative or friend stand? Children and spouse are undoubtedly inside the circle of wagons. Could another person join you inside depending on circumstances or need? Do you WANT the other person to be inside or is it a DNA-based obligation? Would they include you within their circle regardless of relatedness? Are they a friend or relative only, or are they family?

When I stand in limited resources and offer what I have to another whom I love, then I feel family.

When a person whom I love openly shares with me without reservation, I feel family.

When I sense that we will mutually find a way out of challenging times with our pooled resources, hand in hand, I feel family.

And family has nothing to do with DNA.

6 thoughts on “The Alchemy of Family

  1. You just distilled some of the most complex relationship questions into one beautiful, sweet cup, my dear sister in law. I have so often felt pangs of sadness about not “demonstrating” devotion to relationships for the sake of….. DNA? Thank you for sharing this, it’s my fave.

    1. Thanks so much. Conceptualizing family in this way has helped clarify the importance of certain people in my life.

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