Sunday, September 25, 2005

Friends and Family

My friend Tess, who is my wife Jamie’s best friend, was upset when I told her that I don’t think of her as family. I also said that, semantically, I don’t think Jamie is her family either (or vice versa). But semantics are subjective, so I really can’t speak for Jamie. In fact, she tells me that she does consider Tess family.

Jamie and I have been married a little over three years, but we’ve been friends for nine. So I’m only just starting to think of her as a family member. Even marriage didn’t do that. Having a child has made me think of us as “a family”. But that’s still different somehow from being in my family. My family, in my mind, is my mother, father, sister, brother, and other assorted branches down from there. I guess I haven’t quite accepted the fact that I’ve created a new branch. And that I’m actually a part of many more trees than I was previously, if anyone’s doing the genealogy. It’s all very clinical.

I think the sticking point for me is that in my semantics one chooses friends but can’t choose family. Family is about a shared history but not necessarily anything more. Family is about obligation, not choice. There is love, of course, but it’s a different kind of love. It’s less visceral, though more tangible. It’s in the blood after all. Obviously, this just has a lot to do with my particular family.

There is more than familial love in my family, though. And I see that love, the love that lives in ethereal places, the love that chooses itself, as the love of friendship.

I dare say I love some friends more than I love my family. Many of my friends know more about who I truly am than my family does. But there are different levels of friendship, much like branches of family. High school friends are like first cousins with whom you share common experiences but from whom you’ve grown apart. Friends you only see at parties are like second cousins, about whom you really know nothing of substance but with whom you’re willing to laugh, drink, and eat. Acquaintances are like third cousins, once removed. Okay, so I’m not really going to be able to continue this metaphor. But there are degrees of separation (and degrees of closeness) -- some come with similar bone structure, others with an interest in the same TV shows.

I guess my deepest friendships share a connection that can’t be easily defined. There might be a tree showing who introduced who to who, but the length of the branch isn’t relative to who knew who first or even what you’ve experienced together. It’s just…a connection.

So I just said it, I realize – friendship, like family, is all relative. To call someone “friend” or “family” will mean different things to different people, will even mean different things about different people. Even the word “love” holds different meanings – it may be held in reserve for just the right moment or the right person (or the right person in the right moment), or it may be thrown around with less intent or impact. It’s all a matter of degrees. Personally, I hold “love” pretty close to my chest and only pull it out when I’m truly feeling it. And I don’t really have a word for the people who mean the most to me. Maybe I need one. Maybe Tess is right. But I can’t really see using “family” that way. It’s just too loaded. Posse? Gang? Clan?

The people I love the most, who I hold most dear, make me feel safe, comfortable, at home. They are my home. Is that a good word, “home”? Unfortunately, there’s a Billy Joel song that contains the lyric, “I need you in my house, ‘cause you’re my home.” So I don’t know if I could say it with a straight face. I feel as though I’ve heard someone say in some movie, “You’re my heart.” Of course, there’s Jerry Maguire’s “You complete me.” They’re all good. But taken.

Maybe I’ll just go on feeling it without a label. Like I said, it’s ethereal anyway.

Addendum: Tess made an excellent point in a comment about this entry – that, for her, some kinds of (what I would call) non-familial relationships are not chosen; they just are, much like family. I don’t actually know that I ever meant to imply that friendship is a purely intellectual choice. Though, certainly, there are friends who you may even like but could take or leave without too much trauma. Their absence does not leave a void. So I suppose that is an intellectual choice. But there are some friendships that choose themselves. So, like family blood, they can’t be broken. But in my mind, they are born of something even more powerful than blood. They are not handed to you; you find them. And, once more, I’ll go back to ether. They are of the ether. They are mystical and transcendent and might make you sleepy.

I probably don’t often enough tell the people I love most that I love them at all. That they are unique not only in my world but in the world at large. That when I am with them, I feel whole. And when we are apart, a piece of them is still swimming inside me, making me stronger.

I honestly can’t remember my life without those people. I know there was a time, but when I picture it, they’re still there, like an aura. So in some way, they’ve always been there. I just didn’t have a name or face to give them. And I’m thankful that I will never go another day without having them with me.

So you want me to name names? Somehow that doesn’t seem to suit the blog. But I’ll say that if you are reading this (and you didn’t just stumble across it), you form the nebula of my heart. Well, you and Wyatt, who can’t read yet.

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