I’ve been thinking about the old Zen conundrum: What’s the sound of one hand clapping?
My personal opinion? Nothing. If you don’t have two hands, you don’t have clapping.
It’s as simple as that. Stars, galaxies, clapping hands, what’s the point?
The point is that we all need somebody, whether you’re a supercluster or a little proton, a yin or a yang.
Everybody is hooked into everybody else.
— Geoffrey Neighbor, Northern Exposure, 1993
I remember thinking in elementary school that I had a good family and when I grew up we would remain an intact family unit, with a few additions, for all time. I could not imagine living without them.
Neither could I imagine experiencing serenity any sweeter than the one I discovered the summer we toured the Pacific Northwest together.
It was a camping trip and the adventure included my parents and brother. There was also my great uncle Loren, the elder statesman, his younger brother Charlie, and my grandmother — their baby sister.
It is a treasured and sweet gift to be able to think back on their weathered, lined faces smiling back at me. It is still sweeter to recall the interactions that included storytelling, humor, and the simple joy that comes from being outside, observing new places, and eating pancakes at a picnic table so moist that your bottom becomes uncomfortably damp unless you sit on a towel.
It was a memorable vacation. One afternoon Uncle Charlie ran into a woman who had written him a “Dear John” letter 50 years before when he received the call to enter the Army and defend his country during World War II. We watched bears stride through one of our campgrounds. We also learned to truly appreciate the wildflowers because Grandmother liked looking at them most of all.
Beyond the adventure, God was molding my understanding of family life. He began teaching me about its irreplaceable value, for he knew there would come a day when I would need to reinvent my concept of family to weather the storms of life and have others to tell of its joys. He also knew I would grow up, marry, create a family of my own, and regroup. I would live into the Age of Technology when growing numbers of us would think nothing of moving away from our places of birth. Or hooking up with someone over the Internet. Or choosing to believe that marriage vows, made before God and family, can be broken with social acceptance because it can be unimaginably difficult to learn how to manage prolonged problems, challenging personalities, life rhythms and agendas that defy your own.
Uncle Charlie died first, back at his home in Texas. Uncle Loren attended my wedding, bought me an egg poacher because he said every young bride needs one, and returned home to pass away within a matter of weeks at age 90. Grandmother would remain the last person alive in her family until 1997 when the call from Charlie and Loren and all the rest would sound much sweeter than ours here on Earth. And this past fall my precious dad would coach his last cross country meet and die six days later from pancreatic cancer — as yet an unbeatable cancer foe.
But the beauty of family, clan, network and tribe lives on in me. I first watched the concept reworked as a young teen when I joined a church youth group. We played together, prayed together, cried and laughed together. And while all that bonding and growing took place, God drew near because we asked him to. We eventually parted to attend various colleges, to marry, work and live our adult lives. But we also took God’s lessons and his spirit right along with us.
I did not fully understand the concept of family building until I moved here to the Pacific Northwest, far from my childhood home and its comfortable structure, to create family from a community of strangers. I learned that when it is holiday time and family is too far away to eat your turkey, you bring friends to your table and prepare some of their family’s favorite holiday dishes so they will feel at home.
I learned that when you need someone to hold you accountable outside your family, you build a committed relationship with a friend.
I learned that you carpool and phone and touch base with those around you on a regular basis. You complicate your life because that is what a family does. That way, when your heart is breaking with disappointment and injustice, you put out a call and they will draw near, to love and listen to you.
I learned that when you begin a new job, you join the lunch crowd because one day they will be your work family.
We all need somebody.