…than water of the womb
You cannot choose your family. Your birthright is a cosmic accident, and whether those who created you go on to provide the best environment possible for your upbringing, your relationship with them will never have been down to any choice on your part. Now, it may be true to say that this is at least partly the case for all relationships; chance is responsible for so much of who becomes your acquaintance, your friend, your lover… Even so, there is actual conscious thought put into the connections you make outside the family unit, and therefore some sort of alignment or personalities.
Man is known by the company he keeps. Doubtless you have heard this saying. The point is that it is easier, and more accurate, to derive a person’s character from their chosen associates than it is by looking at their cousins, siblings or parents. Whether you believe that people change or that a leopard cannot change its spots – whether a person develops over time, possibly in a way that takes them further from their biological origins, or they remain the same from childhood – the fact is that the whole construction of a family is built around shared DNA.
This isn’t to denigrate the family experience. Merely to point out that what you think, what you believe, what you prioritise, what you idolise, what you emphasise…is the best way to seek out company and human interaction. Those who connect with your vision of the world, or even simply like the same daft stuff you do, are the ones with whom you probably will have the happiest experiences. That’s not such an odd thing to believe, is it?
Yet we do hear, particularly over the festive season, about the primordial and overarching importance of family. Indeed, the phrase ‘you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family’ is often twisted to suit this argument – in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Jem summarises Atticus’ belief that, “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”
That is the kind of idea that I’m arguing against here, I suppose. I love my family – most of ’em anyway, most of the time! – but that, and how much I wish to experience their company, is a choice on my part. Just as it is a choice to spend time with someone else who I love. Your immediate family, if you’ve grown up with them and supported eachother, are bound to have that sort of connection – and to a large extent with me, they do. Cousins and distant relatives though…? Not so much. Is it surprising that, as the youngest of seven children, with a large extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, there is less of the modern notion that ‘blood is thicker than water’ and more of the older, more biblical idea?
I am no Christian, but I do sometimes find myself agreeing with certain passages in its texts or works of its historical exponents. Pick and choose, á la carte philosophy, granted. Perhaps you do the same? It’s hard to envisage someone agreeing with literally every word of any ideology, but apparently there are a billion people who do…or say they do. I digress. One relevant verse is from Proverbs 27:10 – “Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family, and do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you– better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.” (New International Version of the Bible)
The point there is that all humanity must be considered your kin, those for whom you are responsible and must help in times of crisis. Of course, you can’t be close to everyone, but the bonds, promises, pledges and ties that you establish with others out of your own free will are the ones you must uphold.
This is not so much an issue for me, a man lucky enough to have relative happiness (if you’ll excuse the pun) with both my own family and that of my fiancé. Think of those who are less fortunate though; whose family members abused them, whose parents would not accept their sexual orientation or gender identity, whose life involved little to no contact with family. The people who could never confide in their siblings, the people who grew up as orphans, the people who were alienated, alone, afraid… Can the word ‘family’, as it refers to blood lineage, have any meaning for them?
Solidarity. Brotherhood. Friendship. Compassion. Humanity. Togetherness.
These are the principles to adhere to, but not solely towards family at the expense of everyone else. Your family can betray you just like anyone else…or indeed more than anyone else, if you know the statistics around domestic, sexual and other physical abuse.
What do you think? Is blood of the covenant thicker than water of the womb?
Solidarity, brothers & sisters…†