Monday, July 12, 2010

From the Inside Out

Picture a piece of burlap. Strong. Tightly woven. Complete.

Now picture that same fabric torn, not cut, into five pieces. The ends frayed and torn. Two of them more together than apart, but none of them completely connected any more.

That’s what my family is like.

Two young people in love and ready to conquer the world and beat the odds were overtaken by life’s demands. Push pulled and they were strewn asunder. Not cut with neat edges. Torn. Raggedly. With strands flaying and seeking wholeness.

And yet, one strand, invisible to the outside, still connects those lives. It’s like a band of steel that could not be torn, cannot be broken. It can be ignored or pushed aside, but it remains. Intact. Unchanging.

I have been corrected for using the term “my real family” as though my foster family was my real family and my biological family was something else. I understood the correcter’s point of view, but I am not completely sure they understood mine.

I’ve also been told that I mourned the loss of someone from my real family when my family was torn apart; therefore, I had no cause for sadness when he died. That wasn’t true, either. The speaker didn’t see the thread that would not break. The speaker did not understand the insurmountable strength of that connection.

If you have never been in foster care, I don’t know if you could.

This reflection is meant to express some of that.

From the outside in, we aren’t a close family at all. Rarely are we all in the same space. Few pictures exist of all of us together. Two of us or three of us, now no more than four of us, gather from time to time. Our memories are stilted, disjointed.

Being together takes effort. We make the effort because we enjoy each other, we get something from each other, we understand each other. We are okay apart, but much better together.

My parents met in their early 20s. Married soon after they met. Began a family.

But unemployment, sickness, exhaustion, alcohol, women, little family support took a quick toll. Five years and three kids later, they divorced. Bitterly.

For reasons unknown, really, and disremembered by the players, my parents placed their kids in foster care. For more reasons unknown and disremembered, my brother and sister stayed together with my dad’s mother and I went to family friends.

But I knew they were there. And they knew I was here. We just weren’t often in the same here or there.

My parents went on to other relationships, other lives; but never really another family. My mom’s relationship lasted the longest at almost 40 years as of today. My brother and sister grew up together sharing friends and landscape and experiences.

My foster family sewed up most of my frayed edges. They surrounded me with good things and were my family in many respects. I love them and am grateful for them.

Yet, there was that one string, the one connection, that one feeling that someone I belonged to was not with me.

Our fabric was torn, but we were still oddly connected.

We are all so much older now.

I’m a grandmother, for crying out loud. Our father is gone. We live in different cities with different friends and different lives. We try to get together for Christmas. We call on birthdays, at least. The women, my mom and sister and I, talk pretty frequently, actually. We all work hard to keep the lines of communication open.

From the outside in, we don’t appear very close for a family.

I have no idea what my niece and nephew are involved in. I have to keep asking my brother, “what grade are they in? How old are they?” Other aunts know those things. It goes the other way, too. My brother chats on occasion with his nephews, but has no real clue what makes them sad or happy or angry.

Don’t mistake our distance for indifference. It’s not because we don’t care. It’s just how it is.

My sons are in two different parts of the state living two different lifestyles. One, a family man working hard, going to school, living small-town life. The other, a single, city-man, a barista, a musician responsible only for his own needs.

But let a tragedy come along. Let someone have a crisis. That invisible thread starts to tug. Regardless of financial situations. Regardless of other responsibilities. Regardless of other commitments.

The tie that binds starts to pull taut and the world stops.

Like now. Today. I should be at work and my German ethic is battling with this family need. My sister is on vacation and should be planting her garden. My brother wants to be busy about his own life.  My son wants to be elsewhere doing something.

Mom needs us. Here we are.

My son, the family man, struggles with this. He wants to be here. But he can’t. His responsibilities are not shared enough and he can’t make a four-hour trip. I assure him it’s fine. He can wait until we need him and can’t do without.

There’s nothing we can do. My mom’s heart is breaking and the doctor’s keep saying there is hope for this, but not for that. All we can do is watch as silently as the man who has controlled her life for 40 years slowly ebbs away. We know he hates being where his and we wish we could let him go to the next life.

And so we wait.

Dancing around our responsibilities and our need to simply be together as life and death totter at the edge of today’s stage.

But we wait together.

Even if we try to go on about our lives – the thread keeps tugging. Our minds, our hearts, our attention is centered on one another.

We’re a family. Not like yours, perhaps, or any other. Together we are stronger, more complete.

The burlap is frayed, but only needs to be placed near the other torn pieces momentarily to find the right place, to connect, to become whole.

That’s my family from the inside out.

1 comment:

  1. Wow Kris this is beautiful! You are truly gifted:)