Stacked on our entertainment center is a pile of greeting cards for my youngest daughter who graduated from college last month. While congratulations cards may be common place, I consider this pile profound. You see, my daughter was blessed to be born into the lines of her grandparents’ families. My father’s living sisters and brother-in-law and my mother’s living sister and brother-in-law, the aunts and uncles who have passed and the cousins they all gave me…along with my husband’s sister, brother, their spouses and my brother…are not distant relatives. Although most live many miles apart they are made of good stuff. The stuff that shares in each other’s sorrows and joys. The stuff that hurts for one another, laughs with one another and truly delights in one another’s triumphs.
You should read the notes they wrote to their niece, great-niece, second-cousin or cousin-once-removed! Many of my cousins have seen my daughter, at best, once a year. Others have seen her a few times a year. But that has not kept their interest in her welfare at a distance. These were not the cards of obligation. Most arrived before her graduation announcement was even mailed. I debated sending formal announcements because I hate the perception of obligation that many feel when they receive them. But her college graduation is a big deal and my husband and I wanted to share the joyful news. So we sent them after the ceremony with a photo of her at her commencement tucked inside. No expectation of cards or gifts; just another tradition of love and connection.
Back to that stack of cards. Under the printed prose on the greeting cards many wrote of being proud of her. When you are proud of someone you exhibit a connection to them; that you care about what happens in their life. The generosity of our family’s sentiments: “job well done”, “you are amazing”, “so proud of you and your accomplishments” — and the added generosity of gifts many enclosed, left her with a wide opened mouth over their wide opened hearts.
One always quick-witted cousin added to her list of compliments “we are wondering how you sprang from our gene pool”. Besides the good laugh, this sentiment sums up why this isn’t a typical pile of greeting cards. My family takes its gene pool with humor and with serious commitment. We are as dysfunctional as the next family. But we are proudly and loyally connected.
Those of us in the second generation remember the family celebrations of our childhood. We know few of our friends had the joy of knowing their cousins. And so, time and distance can’t hold back the desires to know that the second, third and fourth generations are well. Time and distance doesn’t get in the way of us aching when there is bad news in the family. Time and distance doesn’t stop the celebrating for each other when a family member reaches a milestone or accomplishment.
Family must be at the top on the hierarchy of topics to grumble about. Listen to any late night host’s monologue. Sadly, most of us are slow in life to turn off the critical spotlight on our family’s quirky shortcomings and we’re slow to turn it onto what functions well in our families.
The search lights coming off this pile of cards announces that this recent graduate has an extended family who takes the time to hurt for each other, laugh with one another and delight over each individual’s joys. The light of these cards says she belongs.
I’m overcome by the gift of belonging.