I'm giving a birthday party tonight for a member of my family. Not the born-of-the-same-mother or even adopted-into kind of family, but family nonetheless. The kind of family you choose.
I'm blessed with a biological bond to an incredible group of people -- a sister who taught me what it means to be open minded and open armed, a brother, now deceased, who showed me how a good person could be a success even if he chose not to climb a corporate ladder, a twin who is truly my mirror but not in the physical sense . . . he's shown me what life would have been like had I made other choices, a mom who is still considered cool by my friends . . . and many more folks who remind me regularly that they love me.
The family I've chosen is just as precious to me. I've declared to one that we'll probably take care of each other in some old folks' home somewhere. Another makes the pain of losing a brother easier to bear since he fills in quite nicely. Still another makes me laugh . . . the greatest gift she could give me. One reminds me of my faith, even when I feel distant from it. Yet another listens and retells my stories so I won't forget the blessings I've collected. And several are in charge of challenging my sense of adventure.
Tonight we celebrate the contemplative soul among us. Don't assume solemnity here, however. As a southern gentleman he has mastered the fine art of charm drenched in irony. With a smile on his face and a pat on the back, he can either show you how much he cares or exactly where the door is that you'll be exiting from. But stay or leave, you'll be charmed.
I took time to write this prior to the party because as I was cooking and some of the guys were coming in and out of the apartment, I was transported back to the days when I "helped" grandmother in her kitchen for one of the holiday family get togethers. We lived next door to her and so were spared the packed-car-with-kids-and-toys-to-cross-the-state frustrations of Christmas gatherings. The energy of even those weary souls entering into my grandmother's domain was so present with me this afternoon. I couldn't help but compare one family to another.
The energy is similar as I said. The stories are about as long and . . . shall we just say "improved upon" as they were when my uncles were sharing them. Some of the "cares and concerns" are familiar as well . . . "Is she ever going to stop talking and help with these dishes?" from my childhood memories is rivaled with "How late do you think he/she/they'll be this time?" And through it all, there's this spirit that settles somewhere above the candlelight and yet pervades the room . . . and that spirit . . . the one that cuts through the sharp retorts, that soothes the criticized soul, that lengthens the hello hug and the goodbye embrace, that connects eyes and hearts across the crowded room . . . that spirit is what I call family.
There are differences I must acknowledge though. For one thing, there's not one item on my menu that's fried! The bread from Pillsbury's freezer bags is better than any thing I could pull together from scratch (Grandmother might even agree with that one). And my bio-family would have questioned only one vegetable, why any appetizers were needed, what exactly possesses someone to stuff a mushroom, and would have snuck the Jack Daniels into Grandmother's boiled custard rather than just have a glass of wine with the mushrooms!
Yet, I love them both. For all our likenesses and differences, I feel enriched. I can't imagine anything more real than times together as family and any family more real than those who choose to spend time together.