Hermes shrugged. “Families are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is to remind each other that we’re related, for better or worse . . . and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.” (from Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan)
Today, my family got together to celebrate my Mamaw’s 90th birthday. We gathered, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins; four generations were represented in our group. We’re a pretty close family. Those of us who live in West Texas get together a few times a year, usually, but this special gathering brought in a few cousins from further away. And we were loud, like we always are. We were cracking jokes and laughing, teasing each other, retelling old stories, and generally enjoying each other.
And all day long, I kept thinking about what a wonderful, beautiful, messy family we are. Now, we’re a good kind of mess, not a violent messy. This is the kind of family in which everyone is up in everyone else’s business, and no one misses an opportunity to tease and zing someone else. In fact, we’ve been known to keep score of who gets the most jabs in during a gathering. Literally. And that started right after a funeral. Really, you don’t know you’re loved in this family unless someone is making fun of you.
And we’re loud, and there tend to be about a dozen loud conversations all going on at once. Most of us can only keep up with one conversation at a time, but my cousins Debbie, Diana, and Valerie (sisters) are family legends for their ability to carry on multiple conversations simultaneously.
But this is also the kind of family that immediately adopts anyone who comes around. You don’t have to be legally connected to us to be part of the family. In fact, you don’t even have to be familiar enough for everyone to know your name. If you’re present, we’re glad you’re there. Today, my friends Hilary and Benjamin joined the party and I spent part of the day explaining to them who everyone is and how we’re all related, sharing stories and enjoying the interaction of various family members who would come by and join in. And as I shared my family with my friends, I was deeply aware of what a blessing family is, and I was glad to have an opportunity to remember that I’m related to these people.
It’s a common saying that you can’t choose your family, and I guess that’s pretty much the truth, and it begs the question of who you would choose if you had the option, and who you wouldn’t choose. But a family is bound as much by choice as it is by blood–we may not have chosen each other at the outset, but we choose each other again and again and again by choosing to love each other, to care about each other, to share our disparate lives with each other. And that’s worth remember, no matter how messy the family.