The Power Of Choosing Your Family

Like most people in the States, maybe even the world, I’ve been feeling really sad about the darkness and sorrow that others cause through violence. It hurts, doesn’t it, this feeling of being unsafe and not in control. It feels like it’s in the atmosphere everywhere: in our politics, in our religions, in our online presence. In my life, it’s present in a much more direct way: troubles with my family, and my son who is struggling every day with clinical depression and anxiety.

This can’t be the world we live in. This can’t be.

So I’ve been thinking a lot the last few days. Ruminating, really, the way you worry a popcorn kernel out of your teeth. There has to be something, some goodness in all of this. What is it? Where is it?

Last weekend, my two girlfriends from college, former roommates, came to stay at our house. They are my oldest friends. I am not good with making friends, but they’ve stuck with me over the years. They’ve seen me at my thinnest, my heaviest, my happiest, and my most miserable. They know my quirks and neuroses and they effortlessly navigate around them. And though I was on the verge of tears for most of the weekend, I also felt something remarkable. I felt buoyed. That seems a strange word, but it’s the right one. These dear friends lifted some of the weight off my shoulders for a while and I was lighter.

And today it dawned on me. This is what I’ve been searching for. This...whatever it is...to help lift the weight. 

My daughter has nightmares sometimes and calls out for me and I go to her and sprinkle her with dream dust. I snuggle in next to her and breathe on her because she hates that and it makes her laugh. I help lift those burdens from her. And though I’m an adult, there are people who do that for me. Not the breathing part, exactly, but certainly the lifting part.

One of the beautiful things about being an adult is that you get to choose your family, your community, and they will lift you and help you heal. And I’d forgotten that.

You can’t choose the family you’re born into, but you can certainly choose the people you surround yourself with, so this is what I’m doing. The world feels dark, but the more people I have around me, the more times I call out and they answer, the more I’m buoyed. And it’s beautiful.

It’s like that whole Whoville Village singing in the town square the day that Christmas was taken from them. A family can be momentary but powerful. Like those Target employees who stood up for and in front of a nursing mom to protect her. And those women on the bus shaming a man for being a predator. And those people who in the midst of violence, stand up and help others.

There is goodness around and you can make yourself strong with it.

These last few weeks, I’ve been really thinking of who in my life brings me comfort, and who is toxic. It’s hard to think about, but it’s helping me make choices on living a healthy and loving life.

And it’s empowering too, to know I can choose whomever I want to be in my family. I don’t even have to tell them.

I choose my kids, and my husband. I choose family members I was raised with, and family members who met me later in life. I choose this narrating community and the wonderful people I’ve met, and the writers whose words comfort me and inspire me. And there are artists I’m choosing too, because if I’m going to create a family, it’s going to be rich with beauty and music and laughter. And there are family members who can cook (I like to think I’m one of those). And people in my life who will hug me even though I’m not a hugger but I appreciate it anyway.

Today I picked up my daughter from her art class. My son and I held hands and walked to get her and then she held my hand too and we walked two blocks to gethot dogs at Crazy Charlie’s. It was dark and rainy most of the day, but when we walked, the sun burst out of the clouds and the colors deepened around me. And I realized that (as cheesy and as Hallmark as it may sound) I am stronger when I have my loved ones around me. I am a better person. A kinder person. A braver person.

It doesn’t take much. I don’t mean I have to have my entire chosen family in my living room at all times…because anyone who knows me knows that I’d probably freak out wondering where everyone was going to sleep and what the menu would be. But it can be in the little things. The interactions. The stupid emoticon communications on posts. The long visits where you do actually drink those six bottles of wine you purchased. The walk around the neighborhood when you swear you heard a cougar and your chosen husband tells you that oh, yes, there are plenty of cougars in the neighborhood, but not the kind you have to worry about.

Each person I let into my inner circle, each person helps me heal a little bit more. And I hope I do the same for them.

Love wins eventually.

It does.

Because it has to.

Because it will.

Because that’s the truth I choose to believe.