When I was 17, I lived through a nuclear explosion. My parents divorced.
Before that day I had lived my life full of family. Not just my sister and parents living our life in our little house together, but my enormous comforting cushion of 23 aunts and uncles, 27 cousins and 3 living grandparents.
Up until that day I spent many hours growing that connection, sharing experiences, creating memories with ‘my people’. People with whom I shared a genetic pool and a history. My tribe. It wasn’t something I gave much thought. I had the privilege of taking it all for granted.
After our nuclear family explosion, there was a black hole where that cushion of family had been. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault. Just the fall out of that type of war. My uncle Andy was the only one close enough to walk with us through the rubble.
We left our home we grew up in and were taken to new homes. We were handed a new family. Step family. My sister and I tried to forge bonds there. We failed. Perhaps we were half hearted in our attempt. There was no shared genes or history there. There was instead, a shared wariness. A jealousy over the territory of our parents.
We decided to not need it. To not need family. To not need to be a part of our tribe. We had each other, it could be enough. So my sister and I became an island. Shipwrecked and lonely. We didn’t admit this to any one but each other. It was our shameful little secret of isolation. Everybody else seemed to have that happy Thanksgiving thing going on. That Rockefeller Christmas. It was just us. We were the tainted broken ones not good enough to be included any more.
Jelalluddin Rumi speaks of the Open Secret in his poems and commentaries written centuries ago. This ‘secret’ that we ALL carry around in some form or another trying to hide from each other. The one about how everyone else has it (life, family, etc) figured out except us.
I was amazed at the affection and longing my children seemed to be born with for their extended family. Even very young they seemed to know that family was different from friends we had made along the way. This love seemed to be especially powerful towards their cousins. Watching this, I felt a stirring.
This deep love seemed to be there even when we lived far away and they saw each other rarely. It caused me to reach out tentatively for my own, my people, my tribe. It had been so long. An email here and there. Finding and friending family bit by bit on Facebook. All from a distance.
Then there was an opening. A window. My cousin’s wedding.
I have not seen Patrick, Macon and Emily since they were very little.
That was a long time ago.
I had no idea how much I missed them. I had not paid attention to the Open Secret they had been carrying all these years. Each in our own worlds thinking we were the only ones not invited to sit at the family table. Their suffering so much greater than mine.
My soul woke up and whispered, ‘pay attention, these are your people. You have been away too long’. I felt the river moving in me. It was joy.
I spent the evening soaking them in. Trying to catch up on our stories. Crying at the beauty of them. Missing their father. Touching them to make sure they were real. Wanting to sit them down on my lap and pet them and hold them close. Instead trying to use my words to say ‘i am sorry for all the time I have lost. I want to come back home’.
We don’t live in villages with our families much anymore. We are spread out across countries and even continents many times. Our lives are hectic and some days I can barely keep up with my own children much less my sister or parents. I am not doing a good job of keeping my children connected to their cousins, in spite of their longing.
But this weekend I felt an opening of my heart. So many things came into focus that I had pushed down below the surface of my soul.