Yesterday we gathered with dearest one's family for the afternoon and evening. He and his siblings take turns organizing the day, planning the menu, figuring out where we will all meet. I think at last count we had 35+ nieces and nephews on his side of the family ranging in age from preschool to 31. We've been made a great uncle and aunt several times over already, too. You can imagine when we all try to get together how many we are.
I haven't always been comfortable at these gatherings. Dearest one is the only sibling living in the community who is not part of his family's conservative church where the women wear head coverings and the men all have beards. They dress conservatively and live a simple life. No radio or tv. Often it seems to be more uniformity than unity. I tried for several years to be a part of the lifestyle and gained more acceptance than ever while doing it but I couldn't stick it out without a part of my soul dying. I will however, treasure what I learned in that time of my life. It wasn't for naught.
I have a reasonable relationship with nearly all of his sisters(5) and sister-in-laws(4). They have been most gracious to me over the years as my journey has had its twists and turns and my outspoken, often antagonizing ways have been more than tolerated. I try to connect with these women in our common roles as mothers, daughters and wives. A one on one conversation feels much more comfortable than in a group setting. I nearly laughed out loud yesterday when I was sharing with one sister-in-law about our new priest, Father Julien and his Indian culture. One of her daughtes asked who he was only to hear her mother spit out the word 'priest' under her breath as if it was a swear word. I wanted to say, "it's okay, saying his name won't contaminate you."
These women really know nothing of my story and I know nothing of theirs except that which is common knowledge. So we sat yesterday around a table and put together a puzzle, got up and chatted around the kitchen counter, made small talk during our meal and then worked together to clean up afterwards.
All done for another year.
It left me wondering what family is.
And what it could be.