What Is Your Definition of Family?

by Kevin Burton

   At a church I attended in Columbus years ago, the pastor mistakenly referred to my “wife and kids” one day.

  Back then I had neither wife nor kids, but his mistake was understandable. I am mentioning this anecdote today as I try to define the term “family.”

   A good friend of mine and her two children attended the same church I did. Her husband never attended church that I am aware of.  Most Sundays I sat near this family.

   Anyone watching me interact with this friend, our body language and expressions, would pick up on some kind of connection that was more than casual. 

   The connection was, we had grown up together, with a lot of others, at the Ohio State School for the Blind.  If you wanted to call us friends (as I just did), you would be technically correct. But the true connection is a lot more like siblings. That’s the way I see it. She’s family.

    There was a day maybe two months ago when my blood brother delayed again, a phone conversation we had planned to have. He said he was not in the right mindset to talk, offering no further explanation.  He’s been pretty distant during quarantine.

   Then one of my male friends from the blind school called me that same night. 

   I thought to myself, “Well Kev, your brother called you.” He’s family too.

   The US Census Bureau and other government agencies have their definition of family. Dictionaries have their say of course. These definition are useful in a narrow sense.  Each passing day makes dictionary definitions less relevant it seems to me.

   Ask yourself, when the chips are down, who can you count on?  Who do you have who really cares enough to take action when you are hurting? 

   You are turning to one person, or dialing one number to talk about pains, or joys that go to your very core.  When you choose that person, what does shared DNA have to do with it, really?

   Life in general, even before considering the Covid 19 crisis or whatever calamity comes next, will force you to figure it out. Who is really family?

   “It is a title given to those we hold dearly to our hearts. We extend it to those who come into our lives and, no matter what, through thick or thin, seem to stay,” is the definition on the website www. theodysseyonline.com. “DNA is not always shared, but the feeling is undeniably there.” 

   “We must take care of our families, wherever we find them,” said writer Elizabeth Gilbert. I would add, we must find them wherever we may. 

   “In truth a family is what you make it,” said English novelist and playwright Marge Kennedy. “It is made strong, not by number of heads counted at the dinner table, but by the rituals you help family members create, by the memories you share, by the commitment of time, caring and love you show to one another, and by the hopes for the future you have as individuals and as a unit.”

   Most churches call their congregations a family.  Of any non-blood groupings, churches certainly should feel like families. The one church that I was beginning to think of as a family split one Sunday morning.  Apparently there was a longstanding chasm that neither my wife nor I detected until the pastor announced near the end of a sermon that he was leaving. 

   Certain businesses call their work force a family. Certainly there are people in the same organization that hold differing opinions on whether it is a family.  

   Could it be that family, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder? 

   “So much of what is best in us is bound up in our love of family, that it remains the measure of our stability because it measures our sense of loyalty,” said poet and novelist Haniel long. 

   We’ve all heard stories of families that fought ferociously among themselves, but let an outsider try to harm one of the group and you find out just how solid the family unit was.

   “There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of humans, are created, strengthened and maintained,” said the great English Prime Minister Winston Churchill.     

   What is your definition of family?  How has it changed over the years?  Have your thoughts changed during quarantine? 

   What have you done or will you do today to affirm those who fit your definition of family?

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