I was fortunate enough to find blood kin I didn’t know survived when I answered the phone this week. There’s a certain thrill to learning other people walk the earth sharing a large portion of one’s DNA. Important to me was hearing an accent gone for most of my lifetime and learning medical history I may need to know in the coming years. Best of all were shared memories of a life and places now gone forever.
While our memories remain, those people and places live on after their passing. For a few brief shining moments, my mother was once again a bratty urchin getting her niece into trouble after school, rather than a name on a grave in a cemetery.
But is shared genetic code and memories of shared people and places all that constitutes family?
My generation was the first shaped by modern contraception. I am an only child, daughter of an only son, surrounded by only children or children from smaller families. While my mother’s siblings numbered in the teens, suddenly – for the first time in history – an entire generation consists of small families with few siblings.
Besides my genetic kin, what does my family consist of?
Family is the friends who drive hundreds of miles, children and protesting spouses in tow, to stand at your side at your parents’ funerals. Family is the friends who spend months of their lives helping clear and dispose of the aftermath of a disaster. Family is the neighbor who takes a day off from a desperately needed job to drive you to the hospital and be there when the anesthesia wears off. Family is the woman who drops everything to edit a book in one long marathon when an agent asks for the whole thing unexpectedly. Family is the man who spends his vacation days loading an aging car onto a trailer to help drive on a cross country move and folds a terrified cat into his jacket to make sure she’s carried safely into the motel rooms. Family is the friend who challenges you to leave your comfort levels and stretch that extra distance to be better. Family is the people who still speak to you after knowing you for a quarter of your life or more.
It’s exciting to find blood kin I didn’t know I had. But looking at the people in my life, sometimes I’m amazed at what a large family I’ve managed to acquire.