Family, Like Faith, Is What You Make It

I have launched a campaign to have all of my loved ones move to New York City. Ideally, they’ll all move to Queens (one of the most diverse counties in the country!), but I’ll take any borough really, or even New Jersey if I have to. My campaign isn’t about city pride (though I have that in abundance), it’s about drawing close every person that I want to share my dinner table with. It’s about making it possible to bring those people cold medicine when they’re too sick to get out of bed, and not just wishing them a happy birthday on Facebook but being able to hug them on that day and to look into their eyes when I tell them I’m glad they were born. This is about being close to my family.

The family I was born into wasn’t made up entirely of blood relatives. My earliest childhood memories are full of my parents’ closest friends, who I grew up knowing as my people in much the same way that many describe being surrounded in childhood by a large network of relations. That is, it was instilled in me from an early age that those people who feed your soul and who show up for you without question (and often without having to be asked) deserve the same measure of devotion as the folks who can talk from first-hand experience about where you came from.

I’m not sure how my parents came to live this way. It could be that it came from our Unitarian Universalism, a religious tradition made strong by scores of people who were cast out, explicitly or implicitly, by the religious homes of their birth because of gender nonconformity, doubt in a higher power, marriage to someone outside the tradition, or a sense of moral obligation that called them to love all of the above. On Friday nights as a kid, I went to church. Sometimes my parents stayed to help out, and sometimes they got to go off and do grown-up things about which I was blissfully ignorant. But whether it was their turn or not, for a few hours every week I was corralled by a rotating group of wonderful adults. These caring, funny, inquisitive grown-ups were like a collective of parents. Many of them had hybrid identities like UU-Jew, UU-Christian, and UU-Humanist, and they helped raise me into a person who knows that you can have deep religious faith and still believe differently than others who also call themselves Jewish or Christian or Buddhist or Wiccan. They were, and in many cases still are, my family.

As an adult I have known many more people who embrace the faith they were born into and, as they have come to more fully understand it and the world they live in, have come to act from that place of faith for causes that their coreligionists might find abhorrent. I have marched alongside them for the rights of queer couples to marry and the rights of women to choose whether or not to have a child. I am inspired daily by these people whose faith is strengthened by their (perhaps unconventional) convictions, and they are among my top targets for relocation to NYC. I want them here because I know that our families, like our faiths, are made stronger by not only appreciating the people and perspectives that we inherit, but by seeking out and welcoming previously unfamiliar voices to share in our communities and our lives.

As people, we need other people. We need them as pharmacists when we are sick, as mechanics when our cars are sick, as mail carriers and waitresses and public officials and bankers. We also need them in more intimate ways. For our happiness, we each need people who will support us and love us and lift us up, who will advise us and give us perspective and tell us (lovingly) when we’re just plain wrong. The people who can do all of this at the same time are precious, and must be held close.

Any community, of family or faith, is not just something that we are given and have to accept wholesale. It is also something that we intentionally create. And when we do, we do ourselves a service by working to make it bigger, wider, and more diverse. When we opt to be accountable to people who show us other ways of being, make us more understanding, and challenge us to be better, we give ourselves the gifts of strength and compassion required to make it a better place for all of us.

Photo courtesy of the author.

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