Tag Archive | "family"

Who Is Your Family?

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The following story is true.  The names have been omitted to protect the innocent and the guilty.


Family relationships are complex, and individual members of families often play roles determined by birth order, gender, comparative dominance-submissiveness of mother and father, and a variety of other factors.  Narcissism – ranging from a healthy self-love to psychopathology – is a factor in consideration of all human relationships.  And, of course, individual behaviors and motivations run the gamut from pure to evil.


Our story begins more than a half century ago when our protagonist, then a young girl, goes with her dad to purchase a new bicycle with the gift money she has received from family and friends for her First Holy Communion.  With a considerable amount remaining following the purchase, she informs her dad that she wants him to use the rest of the money to buy a new bike for her older brother so that she “can ride bikes with him.”  Of course, most older brothers don’t want their sisters tagging along with them, and so it is not surprising that the unexpected receipt of a new bike does not motivate her older brother to share the joys of bike-riding with her.


Our protagonist also has a significantly younger brother whom she adores from the time of his birth.  She takes care of him, looks out for him, and, as he grows into manhood, freely permits him to use her car, takes him and his girlfriend on vacations, and even pays when he buys his girlfriend gifts.  When he marries his girlfriend, our protagonist helps her brother paint his apartment at the conclusion of which he tells her that she should not be spending so much time with him.


Fast forward several decades, our hero’s older brother has recently lost his wife to an untimely death, is left with two young children to raise, and is in the throes of a deep depression.  He seeks out his sister and spends time with her every day for a period of months.  She comforts him, advises him, and connects him with professional help.  That Christmas, he tearfully recounts how during one of his darkest days, he was at a Chinese restaurant and broke open a fortune cookie to find a message of hope.  He hands his sister a package containing the framed fortune cookie message “Someone will come to your emotional rescue.”  Months later, having regained emotional stability, he no longer considers his sister’s point of view of any value.


Advance another decade and our protagonist’s older brother is remarried with a “new family” and her younger brother has two college-aged daughters.  Her parents are advanced in years and reside in a retirement community in New Jersey, wintering in Florida.


While her brothers are completely absorbed in their own lives and only see their parents on holidays, she makes the 50+ mile drive to her parents home several times weekly.  Noticing a significant decline in her parents’ mental capacities, she suggests to her brothers (the older of whom basically dictates the type and level of care his parents receive) that their parents’ mental capacities are diminished and that they should see appropriate medical professionals to determine if there are beneficial medications or therapies available to enhance mental acuity and improve the quality of their lives.  The older brother (to whom the younger brother always defers) determines that the parents are “fine” and chooses not to pursue any treatment options.


The following winter, her parents embark on the 3-hour trip from their New Jersey home to board the auto train in the DC-area, a trip that they had made each year for the previous 10 or more years.  This trip, however, proved to be different as they wandered aimlessly for five days throughout eastern Virginia apparently unable or unwilling to contact family or other form of assistance.  Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that neither of her brothers ever told their sister about this happenstance!


What is surprising, however, is that our protagonist, a devoted daughter and loving sister, now finds herself an outcast in her own family.  She finds herself in this situation for the same reason that has appeared to plague her during her entire life – she cares too much.  Now, that may seem a strange reason for a family to turn its back on one of its own.  But, I believe it to be more commonplace than one might expect.


In this case, it is perfectly consistent with the observed past behaviors of the parties.  As previously indicated, our protagonist has been concerned about her parents diminished mental capacities for quite some time.  In the past year, however, a number of trips to the emergency room by her parents have revealed a high blood value (I will not bore you with the details) indicative of unhealthy exposure to carbon monoxide.  Both parents  tested at high levels on multiple occasions.


When our hero presented these facts to her older brother, he had his parents’ residence tested.  When testing did not reveal a source, he was satisfied to cease any effort to pursue medical investigation or treatment to address this potentially deadly condition.  Our protagonist, not satisfied with anything less than 100% effort on her parents behalf, has doggedly attempted to motivate her brother to pursue a medical course that she believes will not merely protect the health of her parents, but also help restore their mental capacity.


Recently, her mother’s mental illness has played a role in creating a rift with our protagonist.  Her older brother has used this as an opportunity to cut off communication with his sister, an action that I’m certain he believes has simplified his life.


Thus, we arrive at this year’s Holidays – a time of peace on earth and goodwill toward all, a time when loved ones gather together and share in the spirit of the season.  And yet, our hero finds herself isolated from her family.  Does anyone at this year’s family gathering come forward in her defense – her younger brother, his wife, her nephew or nieces?  Not to this writer’s knowledge.


So, what is the upshot of this inarticulately narrated tale?  Can we reduce our hero’s plight to a dysfunctional family suffering some form of mental illness, or to a family in which runs a deeply seated strain of psychopathological narcissism, or a family comprised of evil people?  Is there any good or justifiable reason to treat someone of such pure motives as our protagonist so poorly?


It is questions such as these, together with the Holiday Season and some time to think as I recover from flu-like symptoms, that have given me pause to consider the nature of family relationships and the more significant question of “who is your true family?”


Of course, we all understand that we have people with whom we are biologically related.  Most of us know or have known our parents, grandparents, and siblings.  Yet, for many, one’s true family extends to others with whom they share no DNA and may, in fact, exclude some with whom they share blood relations.


I am reminded that no less a personage than Jesus had issues with his biological family and considered the nature of the true family relationship as illustrated by the following story from the Gospel of Mark:


Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came. They stood outside and sent a person in to tell Jesus to come out. Many people were sitting around Jesus. They said to him, “Your mother and brothers are waiting for you outside.” Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then Jesus looked at those people sitting around him. He said, “These people are my mother and my brothers! My true brother and sister and mother are those people that do the things God wants.” (Mark 3:31-35).


The pure of heart, like the protagonist in our story, cannot even begin to conceive the motivations driving the actions of those not so inclined.  They should not be concerned.  Rather, like Jesus, they should come to the realization that their true family are those who share their purity of purpose and generosity of spirit.



La Famiglia

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Earth from Space 2

The Holiday Season, in the midst of which we find ourselves, is a time of giving, sharing, and reflection.  As we gather together to enjoy or endure (in whatever situation you may find yourself this year) the blessings of the season and conclusion of another calendar year, many of us will pause to remember Holidays past.  For me, what made those occasions special were not the gifts given or received (most of which I can barely recall) or the food and drink consumed, but the people with whom those times were shared.  If you were fortunate enough to have grown up within a close extended family, you have a sense for that about which I am speaking.  The offspring of members of two tightly-knit Italian-American families, I – of course – shared those joyous times with parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and cousins!


And, during my childhood and adolescence, our family gatherings were not reserved simply for Holidays, but were a regular part of life.  Every Sunday was like a mini-Holiday!  For, on that particular day of the week, my mom, dad, brother, and I all traveled from our home in New Jersey for a day with our families in Philadelphia.  We began with dinner at the home of my paternal grandparents in the early afternoon.  Later in the day and evening, we joined my mom’s side of the family at her parents’ home.  Why and how that particular schedule was established, I do not know.  But, what I do know is that for the ten-plus years that I remember our Sunday pilgrimages to the City, the dinners and family gatherings were attended, with extremely rare exception, by each and every aunt, uncle, and cousin.  Regardless of what was happening in our individual lives and nuclear families, we all made it a priority to join with our extended family for that one day out of the week.


My father was one of three brothers and my mother one of five sisters.  And so, our Sunday dinner with my father’s family was usually shared among fifteen adults and children, and the evening gathering of my mom’s clan customarily totaled twenty-one.  As Americans of Italian heritage, we always viewed our families as being more loving and closer-knit than those of our non-Italian friends and neighbors.  And indeed, I, to this day, know of no other non-Italian-American families who were more in each other’s presence or whose lives were more closely intertwined than were those of my mother or my father.


Imagine experiencing Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter on a weekly basis!  That is what my childhood was like.  The incredible food was just a small part of the equation.  The truly amazing aspect of those days was the overwhelming sense of love and fulfillment that was enjoyed by all on those occasions.  Now, I do not mean to suggest that my mom’s and dad’s families did not have their share of disagreements and even animosities, as most people do.  But, in the presence of each other, those feelings faded away, as the snow melts on a mild spring day.  Harmony reestablished, we were liberated to enjoy the reverie, camaraderie, and peace that one can only experience in the presence of those whom he or she truly loves.


It occurs to me now that there was one other individual who, although unseen, must have attended our weekly gatherings.  If Heaven is the presence of God, then He must have been there among us.  And, if His presence can create harmony and joy among biological family members, then why not among all his children?


The day is fast approaching when all of us must come to the realization that our peace, harmony, and very survival are interwoven with those of our brothers and sisters inhabiting this planet.  Fuel, food, and clean air and water, in diminishing supply, are among the commodities that we must equitably share.  The root causes of hatred and violence must be illuminated and eradicated.  And, we must all learn to tolerate and even celebrate our cultural and religious differences.


Perhaps, as naive as it sounds, we should begin by acknowledging ourselves as members of the same family, relatives not by place of origin but by common Creator.  Then, perhaps, we may feel inspired to gather together and discover the enriching power of sharing a meal or companionship with our brothers and sisters of every race, culture, nationality, and religious persuasion.  In the presence of each other and our Heavenly Father, we will surely see our differences melt away and be left with a sense of peace and fulfillment, as well as a blueprint for resolving the difficult problems that we share.

Where Were You in ‘22?

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Philadelphia 1922

Eighty-seven years ago on this date, my mother was born.  World War I was a memory, and the United States was embarking on a period of prosperity known as the “roaring ‘20’s” when women were Constitutionally-recognized as “equal” to men and technologies like automobiles, trains, and mass communication by radio and telephone began to proliferate.  It was a time of hope inspired by “modern” conveniences and ways of thinking.  Short-lived though it was, it must have been an exciting time in which to start life.


In addition to my mom’s birth, 1922 witnessed significant breakthroughs in science and medicine.  Human growth hormone was discovered and insulin was first isolated and used for treatment of diabetes.  Two British Egyptologists caused quite a stir by unearthing the intact tomb of King Tutankhamen, the only tomb that had been untouched by looters through the centuries.


Of course, 1922 also produced less positive news.  In Italy, Benito Mussolini marched on Rome and formed a Fascist government.  Also in 1922, a Commission formed as a result of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I established German reparations to be paid the Allies (the U.S. opted out of these reparations) at 132 billion gold marks.  The onus of this staggering debt created historic inflationary pressures in Germany that contributed to the rise of Hitler and his Nazi Party.  Thus, the stage was set for yet another “war to end all wars.”


It is difficult to understand the modes of thinking and motivations of those living in another time.  And, I doubt that I can truly understand the world in which my mom grew up.  One of five daughters of Italian immigrants, she undoubtedly faced discrimination from those of Anglo-Saxon heritage who represented the predominant culture of the time, but I don’t ever recall her mentioning it.  In fact, she may not have even given it much thought.  She lived in a neighborhood in South Philadelphia composed largely of families of Italian heritage.  And so, in her world, everyone was largely the same.


As I was growing up, I was taught to be proud of my Italian heritage and would frequently hear my grandmother comment on the disgraceful practices and behaviors of the “Medigani’s” (or, Americans) as she referred to all non-Italians.  And, I’m sure my mother was schooled in her mother’s beliefs. 


My mother was raised in an environment in which “family” was of primary importance, and this was a tradition that she perpetuated.  In fact, as a child, I spent an enormous amount of time with my grandparents, uncles, and aunts.  I considered my cousins to be my closest and best friends.  I don’t know if any extended families today are as close as was mine.


My mom and her sisters were extremely close-knit, you might say “thick as thieves.”  Although they might argue with each other, they never permitted anyone outside of the “family” to come between them.  In fact, unfortunate would be the individual who crossed my mother or one of her sisters, for that person would find himself at odds with all of them.


Although I did not realize it then, I was privileged to have grown up with such love, caring, and devotion showered upon me.  As I think back to Holidays spent with my extended family, I only wish that others could experience the unadulterated joy of those occasions.  In fact, in our family, every Sunday was a holiday of sorts when we all gathered at my grandparents’ home to enjoy each others’ company.


More than thirty years ago, my mom passed on to her reward, all too young and much too soon.  And, I believe that she is waiting there, amidst the company and love of others in our “family,” for the day on which we can be reunited.  For me, the wait is interminable.  For her, it is brief, for scores of years are but seconds in eternity.


Happy Birthday, Mom.  Love you, miss you, see you soon. 

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