Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Relations are what is important

READING: "I Just Wanna Be Mad" ~ by Kelley Lovelace and Lee Thomas Miller, recorded by Terri Clark

Last night we went to bed not talking,
‘Cause we already said too much
I faced the wall, you faced the window
Bound and determined not to touch.

We've been married 7 years now;
Some days if feels like 21
I'm still mad at you this morning
Coffee's ready if you want some
I've been up since 5, 
Thinking about me and you
And I've got to tell you 
The conclusion I've come to

I'll never leave, I'll never stray
My love for you will never change
But I ain't ready to make up; we'll get around to that
I think I'm right, I think you’re wrong
I'll probably give in before long
Please don't make me smile
I just want to be mad for awhile.

For now you might as well forget it;
Don't run your fingers through my hair.
Yeah that's right, I'm being stubborn
No, I don't want to go back upstairs
I'm going to leave for work 
Without a goodbye kiss
But as I'm driving off,
Just remember this:

I'll never leave, I'll never stray
My love for you will never change
But I ain't ready to make up; we'll get around to that
I think I'm right, I think you’re wrong
I'll probably give in before long
Please don't make me smile
I just want to be mad for awhile.

I was asked to speak today on the things I learned from my family that shaped my view of the world. 

In thinking about the most fundamental aspects of my family life, I have learned that relationships are to be valued over money or prestige. I have a fairly large family.   Christmas and summers were our main opportunity for the extended family to gather together, to eat, watch movies, talk late into the night, put on impromptu talent shows, share family stories, and reaffirm our connections.  We would pile in the car, my parents, brother and I, and drive anywhere from twelve to twenty hours, usually about twice a year.  These road trips are some of my happiest childhood memories.  On the rare years it was our turn to host a gathering, my mother’s entire clan would caravan to our place, carting collard greens and frozen North Carolina barbecue and plenty of sleeping bags, populating every spare inch of floor space for the length of the holiday.

My parents divorced when I was eight, and shortly thereafter my father remarried.  By the time I was ten, my father had tersely cut off any meaningful relationship with my brother and I.  This was deeply painful, and it was the emotional work of decades to try to make sense of my lack of a relationship with him.  But throughout moving house, switching school systems, and other life changes, my mother’s family remained a constant touchstone.  We continued our long drives to North Carolina and Virginia, singing and reciting poetry to keep my mother awake as she passed hour after hour behind the wheel. 

And I came to understand that the thing of real value is spending time with the people you love, who love you back.  It’s worth driving twenty hours with only a nap by the side of the road.  It’s what you do in order to hear stories about your mother as a child, to seek mutual comfort at the death of an uncle, to celebrate weddings together.  You go the extra seven hundred miles. 

And there will always be those who opt not to do these things.  To whom, for whatever reason, the relationship is not an investment.  And such things cannot be forced, and may not even be explained.  And so I learned to let those people go, and cherish all the more the ties that repaid my effort. 

In my family, we actively choose to be together.

At the same time, each member of my family is so different.  Superficially, we look different, with various aspects of African American, Caucasian, and Native American genes coming to the fore.  Some of us are hot tempered; some peacemakers.  Some of us are highly educated; others struggled to get a GED.   As my mother raised my brother and I, we were amused to call ourselves a family of Aries warriors, since the three of us shared an astrological sign and the traits of fierce independence, a love of starting new projects, and plenty of internal drive – though each of us at times “drove” in a different direction.  Some families may not have survived the close proximity of such strong personalities, but we had surprisingly few clashes. 

Why?  My mother consciously fostered an atmosphere of respect for the other’s thoughts, needs, and feelings.  We grew strong-willed, but not domineering.  And having already gone the extra mile (or seven hundred) to understand what another person is all about, it becomes easier to see the other’s point of view as well as your own.  We celebrate each other’s uniqueness, and find a way to make it all work together. 

In my family, we give each other space to be ourselves.

And so the way I approach the world is informed by the twin impulses to approach more closely, and to respect the personal space of those I care about.  The balance point changes depending on the situation and the individual, but it’s a dance that I engage in joyfully.  Because if everyone actively chooses to be here, there’s always a way to make it work.  And because relationships are the most important thing.

READING: On Marriage, by Kahlil Gibran

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. 

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. 

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.