“He’s only a man, Tom.”
“Believe me, I know,” Tom said.
“Do you? You may not worship him like your sister did, but you hold him to a superhuman standard anyway.”
“He’s the one who sets himself up to be superhuman.”
“We’re his family,” Jul said. “It’s our job to see past that.”
-TWIN, Chapter 32
Family. Just that one word made some of you cringe, didn’t it? Family is wonderful. Family is awful. Family is comforting. Family is awkward.
I come from a small family. I have one brother. I have two first cousins. We never lived near either of them until I was in high school. We moved every couple of years while I was a kid, and none of those moves were super close to extended family, so it was pretty much just the four of us (Mom, Dad, brother, and me). That was normal for me.
My husband comes from an Irish Catholic family (yes, that is a descriptor of size). He has three siblings and nearly fifty first cousins. Many lived in the same city he did. His family owned a small business. Extended family sometimes worked for the family business. At least once a month was someone’s birthday or graduation. There was a family party for all of them. That was normal for him.
Whatever you grow up with, whether you hate it or love it, you think it’s normal. Kids are like that; they don’t know any different.
Then you become an adult. You meet more people. Maybe you marry into a second family. Maybe you adopt one. Maybe you make your own. And it hits you.
No one is normal. Least of all your family.
Like I said before, people are complicated. Or as we say in our family, “people are weird.”
“Alexandra had been and was still technically married to a large placid man named James Hancock, who ran a cotton warehouse with great exactitude for six days a week and fished on the seventh. One Sunday fifteen years ago he sent word to his wife by way of a Negro boy from his fishing camp on the Tensas River that he was staying down there and not coming back. After Alexandra made sure no other female was involved, she could not have cared less. Francis chose to make it his cross to bear in life; he never understood why his Uncle Atticus remained on excellent but remote terms with his father—Francis thought Atticus should Do Something—or why his mother was not prostrate from his father’s eccentric, therefore unforgivable, behavior. Uncle Jimmy got wind of Francis’ attitude and sent up another message from the woods that he was ready and willing to meet him if Francis wanted to come shoot him, but Francis never did, and eventually a third communication reached Francis, to wit: if you won’t come down here like a man, hush.”
-Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman
I mean it. People are weird. Unless you were raised by wolves (in which case, let’s talk!), you were raised by people. And no matter how good those people were, they were strange in some way. They had quirks and flaws and streaks and qualities. They did things that now make no sense to you. They said things that now make you cringe. Right?
Even worse, family members are often not that good. They’re often selfish. They hurt people, thoughtlessly or intentionally. They inflict pain. They cause damage. They run away.
Dad says you still love us. He’s like the perfect poster child for divorce: Adults are complicated! Sometimes people change! But everyone still loves the kids so much! I nodded at him like I was supposed to. But you moved out. That and your supposed love are two supermagnets that repel each other. No matter how hard I try, I can’t make them touch.
-Rebecca Stead, Good-bye, Stranger
That’s the struggle we all face as we grow. Nothing is as simple, or as normal, as it seems like it should be. The people we have counted on fail us, and the people we’ve known our whole lives seem to understand us the least.
Because even though it seems like our families should be the place where we know and are known, it doesn’t turn out that way. With the people who share our blood and the people who share our home, everything is personal. They’re right there in our face, and our eyes struggle to focus. The principle of perspective works against us. We’re so close, we can’t see clearly.
He loves a version of me that is incomplete. I always thought it was what I wanted: to be loved and admired. Now I think perhaps I’d like to be known.
–Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale
Of course, the intentional effort to see and to understand our families is a beautiful gift. I can make the attempt to shift perspective, to see my brother, my father, my mother as a person and not just a person who affects me. I can make that choice no matter what choices they make. And I should.
But I can also recognize my limitations. I can accept that I will always be too close to set aside my feelings.
I can accept that family isn’t for being objective. Family is for being biased. Family is for being so close that I can’t see clearly, but I don’t really have to. I am for you, whether I get what you’re about or not. We’re on the same side no matter how weird our side gets. Being fully for someone is love.
I can accept that family is close enough to wound me deeply, and if they do, if they have, I’ll have to bear the pain they’ve caused. And while I can and should draw boundaries to protect myself, that distance will also cause pain. That’s how I’ll know I love them. Bearing pain for someone is love.
“There are moments that the words don’t reach. There is a grace too powerful to name…Forgiveness. Can you imagine?”
-Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
I really can’t imagine. But I want to. I need to. It’s the only way. Because there is no normal. There’s no ideal. There’s only real. And I want my real, weird family to endure.
“Wounds heal. Love lasts. We remain.”
-Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale