Sometimes, between the Facebook screeds and muffled screams of despair in response, I pause to simply look over the pictures of people I know: family, friends, acquaintances, hoping to find something reassuring. At times, a recognition begins quickly but is too well bound up with history to see with freshness, still, I try. On occasion, I succeed and that something reveals itself. An inner vault opens, so to speak, flooding me with primal images, memory pictures embedded deep inside my being.
My brother, three years older and a world apart in type and temperament, I remember from these earliest recollections as a hero, a larger-than-life figure who could play any sport with ease, hit the ball harder and farther, punch harder, run faster, jump higher than only the superheroes we watched together in Saturday morning cartoons.
A cousin I remember as gregarious and intensely sensitive, a natural-born musician whose vocal and musical talents I stood in awe of as he taught himself to play guitar and whose naturalness at the task I still have never seen again.
Now I look at family pictures and see not the awkwardness I felt at the time of being in the presence of blood kin who looked like me and yet were so different, but instead I see echoes of a longer bond which transcends all those new found distinctions we adhere to such as opinions and political convictions. An older bond, ancient, familiar and yet distant too, in a way, which ties us together.
It is odd. On the one hand, as I attempt to allow the warmth of memory to reveal itself without filter, I smile at how deeply imprinted that bond of blood is upon me. On the other hand, age and distance, experience and cultivation have changed us all, and some of those relationships have passed entirely into memory, while others have become strained reflections of what they once were, and others retain their hold, if only for nostalgic embrace of a verdant past. A smaller number remain confusing aggregates of history, impressions, topical fragments of shared interests in clothes or music; with them, I linger a bit and move on, with scarcely a look back.
Family ties are obviously the strongest and are for me, also the most puzzling. They exist in that archetypal realm we cannot name,but instantly recognize. When my children are able to see their cousins and play with them or speak via video I am struck by their displays of that same primal recognition, a curiosity at first, then a deepening of impressions, recognition, and then an acknowledgement of difference, and they move on. Their curiosity remains though, and I am pummeled to this day with questions about this or that cousin of theirs, or mine (from my Puertorican side of the family which they do not know as well as their Icelandic cousins who live nearby.)
This “oddness” lies mainly in the intensity of perceived difference, coupled with the deeper intensity of felt sameness. Let me elaborate.
Without apology I lead a life firmly committed to accumulating as much information as I can assemble in order to distribute and selectively highlight to as wide an audience as I can reach, in order to be of service to the oppressed, the disenfranchised, and the poor of the world, all of whom I regard as my kin, my family, my people. Yet this very same attitude apparently goes against the grain of imbibed notions of nationality and cultural “loyalty” by some, and has earned me the wrath and enmity of people who are, by blood, my biological family, my biological kin. These differences are held onto tightly by all sides, and are seen as the defining qualities of personal identity, pretty much above all else. But, possibly by nature, I don´t share such notions of Other vs. Us and partly because of this, I am ostracized. Still I continue, nevertheless, and am proud of my efforts to be a “connector” of ideas and people to each other.
But those bonds again…their psychic ties on me remains firm, if the actual grasp invisible and elusive. I am at odds with people I may not have seen in 30 years and yet, just viewing their faces is an act of subtle pleasure, a noticeably bittersweet acknowledgement I face daily.
I am now old enough to see the adult children of my cousins and see in their faces the same features I saw in my father or mother and in their families before and recognize in myself and my own children. I see these people now, most of whom I have never met, and marvel at how easily I smile at seeing them at even the most ordinary of tasks or poses, smile at their lives and stories, smile at their shared experiences. I am tied to them by bonds I concede as vitally important, and yet, I remain apart, divided because of my acceptance of other bonds which also tie me: to others not so well regarded, not so tribally regarded as “our” blood, or national identity.
What do we owe those bonds? Why are notions of blood kinship worth holding onto so tightly that they displace wider notions of kinship with other people, other races, other cultures, other species, even? Is this perhaps some grander lesson, that our smaller bonds are to be regarded as launching pads for a wider Compassion as Buddhists say, becoming at last a concern for “all sentient beings” which is to displace narrower ideas of “kinship?
I don´t know. I know those original bonds are there, and I am tied by them. They actually feel good. Yet, there are other bonds, not as old but just as meaningful nevertheless, which tie me to others,all over the world, whose power I must acknowledge too.