I more than admit that I have not always been the most family-oriented individual. Don't get me wrong, when it comes to my immediate members, I have always put them before myself in my mind.
As far as extended family goes, I admit, I've spent time being more selective. I don't feel good about that. I could sit here and make excuses. I could speak of family drama. I could list reasons why I can't/don't get along with this person or that person. I could reason that this member lives so far away or this person doesn't seem to want to connect, therefore, why should I?
In heated moments of frustration especially, it's always easier to find reasons to excuse away a lack of compassion towards the people that we've grown up keeping at arms length. In those quiet moments of solitary contemplation, however, you have to start asking yourself why.
Growing up in a small town family can be incredibly difficult. You're around each other all of the time. Everyone seems to know (or thinks that they know) every detail of your life. There is little to no sense of privacy. Particularly during the teenage years when we're all striving to stand on our own as individuals, this tends to create resentment in feeling as if there is no part of your life that is yours alone.
Then there is the matter of small town politics. I find myself running into this issue more than anything. I am much more liberal whereas most of my extended family is a lot more conservative. Family gatherings, as rare as they have become, tend to get heated if these discussions come up and definitely play a part in how we interact with one another.
Then, something bad will happen. Someone will get a horrible medical diagnosis, or someone will pass on and suddenly, nothing else matters. We need each other. We love each other. We're glad to be within each others company.
Why does it have to come to that? Why does it take something negative happening to bring us all together in a positive way?
Every member of my extended family has played a positive role in my life at one point or another, whether it be something good they've done for one or both of parents or a kind act towards me or my brother. This is when I have to ask myself why it's so difficult to get along the rest of the time.
I don't want to only have a relationship with my family during the difficult times. I give them due credit that whenever I absolutely need them, they are constantly in my corner. I just wish this could be true on a regular basis.
Yesterday, my cousin Matthew, more often referred to as my brother due to how close we've always been growing up, showed up at my door. Some of you may know him as "Lemon." I'm lucky if I am able to see and spend time with him once a year and seeing him at my dining room table when I got up to get around for work last night was the best surprise I could have asked for, I think.
Matt and I are only a couple of years apart in age and we grew up being best friends. Though I may only see him once a year, when he is home, it's like being a happy-go-lucky kid again. We spend time together, laugh together and understand each other in a way that we both tend to feel that no one else does.
When he and I get together, it reminds me instantly of the old saying that blood is thicker than water. He's my cousin but as far as I've always been concerned, he's my older brother. We love each other, we stick up for each other, we protect each other and God knows, we fight. Although I'm grateful for the kind of relationship that we have and that it's something I don't quite share with anyone else in our family, I can't help but wonder; What would family gatherings be like if I did?