As I write, Baba is lying helpless in a hospital bed, felled by a stroke. She can no longer talk or communicate except by moaning, half her body is now still – unable to be coaxed into movement even by desperation.
When I put down ‘Family’ for this month’s theme, I didn’t realise how keenly I would realise the importance of the ties that bind us in blood. I’ve known it conceptually of course, having discovered research about how children who know their place amidst those before them grow up more balanced and resilient to stress. But last night when I sat down to pen a letter to Baba, not even knowing if she would be able to comprehend the words anymore, it was knowledge now borne of pain and heartache.
It is a backwards system we have, gathering to tell people after they die how much they mean to us. Analysing the impact of a life only after the shock of them leaving has hit. Though maybe it takes the reeling effects of a stroke to hone our perceptions about how we have been irreversibly shaped by the example of those dear to us.
When I sat down to think about Baba’s life, it soon became clear how many threads she has weaved through each of us. Her love of cooking, of serving, being generous, outspoken, the peels of laughter that bring tears to her eyes, her emotional reactions to those who disagree with her, her strong sense of duty, loyalty and efficiency… All of these characteristics have become reborn in the following generations.
In his book ‘Yes, And…” Richard Rohr puts it like this: “We carry the lived and the unlived (unhealed) lives of our parents, grandparents and ancestors.” Scientifically, it has been demonstrated that our behaviour and choices can actually physically alter the aspects of our DNA, which is then passed down to our children through genetics. Thankfully, they also have the ability to turn off and on these genetic switches by the power of thought, as recent developments in the field of neuroscience have revealed. Family is a complicated beast!
I’ve been reading Krista Tippett’s book ‘Becoming Wise: An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living‘ this month, and she writes about family in this way: “The nuclear family is a recent invention and a death blow to love – an unprecedented demand on a couple to be everything to each other, the family a tiny echo chamber: history one layer deep.” It blows my mind that the concept of family we know and take for granted as ‘normal’ has really only been conceived of since 1925, and is predominantly a Western ideal. The loss of multi-generational influences and the death of family history as people would have naturally gathered together around the daily duties of life is a keen failing of our closeted homes now.
I don’t know about you, but Dave and I feel that ‘something’ is missing – we look for it in forging relationships with our neighbours, talk wistfully about living in community with other like-minded families (whilst acknowledging the difficulties and inevitabilities of conflict that these close proximity situations create). I miss something I’ve never known… not consciously anyway.
In the meantime, we are trying to make the best with what we have – creating new rituals to enjoy with family, such as European Breakfasts on the weekends. In an interview in Maxabella Loves, blogger and children’s author Zanni Louise described the start of a day in her life: “At home, we dedicate much of our morning to an elaborate breakfast. We sit down together, make good coffee, and eat a banquet of cured meats, cheeses, and fermented vegetables. I love breakfast more than life itself.” This enchanted me completely and I resolved to start immediately! These breakfasts have become a beautiful ritual now, where we slow down, heap the table with a delicious selection of food and linger together.
Even something as simple as all watching a show together has become something to prioritise, like ‘The Voice‘ or more recently, ‘I’ll Have What Phil’s Having‘, in which comedy writer Phil Rosenthal visits a vivid array of countries (including Italy, France and Japan) to explore and enjoy the food alongside people he meets along the way. It is the absolute next best thing to travelling (particularly in this life stage) and we all become completely enthralled and drawn into the culture together.
Family. It underpins our entire existence. It shapes us genetically, physically, emotionally and spiritually and yet so often we skim over the surface of what it means to be part of one. Routines and rituals propel us along, conversations we have and don’t have, looks that encode a thousand words, people who see us at our best and worst. I am becoming more and more aware of those who went before me, crafting lives and relationships, beating and forging paths that we now stride upon – and often take for granted. We are constantly weaving our invisible thread together, sometimes in discord and at other times in the most beautiful harmony. It is a wistful thought that it is often only when the veiled fabric is torn by destruction or death that we truly recognise the underpinning of our connections together.
As for you Baba, we recognise your irreplaceable impact upon us, your weave of love that has shaped our lives. You may not be able to pick up the tapestry needle anymore, but the example of the life you have lived will continue to echo in us and our children through the generations. You are beloved.
This piece is part of an exploration of monthly themes as a part of my resolutions for this year.
January: The Art of Hospitality
February: A Quest for Spirituality
March: The Audacity of Authenticity
April: The Genius of Generosity
May: The Fortune of Friendship