“We are family” boasted black letters on a fluorescent green shirt, obviously made for this year’s family reunion.
How nice, I thought, smiling as the little girl wearing it skipped past.
It got me thinking about families. What is a family anyway?
Most simply, a family is a group of people who share a common bond. Families are most often defined as being related by virtue of having the same ancestors.
My Slovak grandmother arrived in America on May 4, 1910, at the age of 20. My mother was born four years later. I don’t know much about my father’s family, except that they, too, were Slovak, and, like many immigrants in the early 1900s, found work in the steel mills of western Pennsylvania.
My grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles are all gone now, and few of the cousins that remain remember much of our heritage. But, still, there is an unbreakable bond that ties us together.
My husband, on the other hand, says his background is “Heinz 57.” Although his ethnic heritage is mixed, his roots go deep into farming—we live on land that was once homesteaded by his great grandfather (or was it great-great-grandfather?).
Each year we attend two family reunions—the Woods reunion (his mother’s family) and the Huey-Wetzel reunion (his father’s side). When my children were little, I dreaded these day-long events. My family never had them, and secretly I felt resentful. I saw it only as work and often felt like an outsider. But I’ve changed my views.
“The older you get,” I told my son recently, “the more your roots mean to you.”
My roots tell me who I am—why I am the way I am. Understanding my past gives more meaning to my present and helps me to face the future. My grandparents’ generation embarked on a new life in a new country, not even knowing the language, then faced two world wars and a country-crippling depression while raising families of eight, nine, or more. That’s strong stock. I’m proud to say we are family.
There are other families, too. This year I’ll attend my fortieth-year class reunion. Although I’ve gone to only one in four decades, this time I feel need to go. I finally understand what binds us. We grew up together, sharing the Beatles, the Vietnam War, racial unrest, a cultural revolution. We are family.
Then there are those parents whose sons were on our son’s college baseball team. Together we cheered our boys on and sometimes (OK, often) booed the umpires. Victory, defeat, bad calls, rain, snow, energy-sucking heat, bone-chilling dampness, long road trips, disappointment and joy bonded us together. This summer, a year after our sons graduated, we held the first annual UPJ baseball reunion. The love that flowed among us was stronger than ever. We are family.
Last weekend in Punxsutawney the third annual “Church in the Park” weekend was held, with seven churches of varying denominations participating. Friday evening we enjoyed the movie Bolt on a screen set up in the town square. Saturday night featured a Southern gospel concert given by a choir made up of singers from the different churches. Sunday morning we gathered around the bandstand and worshipped together.
Earlier in the week, all seven churches worked on a community project together, cleaning up the local section of the Rails to Trails corridor.
How nice, I thought, for once we aren’t circling our wagons, but are facing outward, reaching into the community, asking, “How can we help?”
Yes, there are differences, but the bond we share, Jesus Christ, is stronger. Through Christ, we are family.
Family, you see, finds within the common bond meaning and purpose, strength and courage to face and impact the world outside—and, in the process, creating other families.
I am reminded of the words of a song I liked when I was in my teens: “No man is an island. No man stands alone. Each man’s joy is joy to me. Each man’s grief is my own. We need one another, so I will defend each man as my brother, each man as my friend.”*
Dear God, thank you for the families of which I am a part. Thank you that because of them, I do not have to face the world alone. Amen.
*From the song by Joan Baez, “No Man Is an Island,” ©NA
Special-Tea: Ephesians 4:1–13