Growing Generationally

Sunday, January 14, 2007

You may have heard the stories. In the old country, families were large. Huge even. Some families were the size of villages, and distant cousins shared beds under leaky roofs. Entire generations resided in harmony under these conditions, the younger generation bringing joy to the older generation, and the older generation providing wisdom and care for the younger generation.

Then like a freight train ramming a hastily constructed brick wall, something happened. We entered the modern times. Modern times were supposedly better. Technology improved, and standards of living increased (at least in the places that could afford it), alongside longevity and decreases in infant mortality. In short, modern times introduced utopia. Only it didn’t.

Modern ideals and goals splintered families and split them apart. Technology replaced human contact and people drifted away, becoming less involved and less caring about the family that welcomed them into the world. I don’t say this to judge others. I am no better. I live across the country from my family. I’ve moved further west each year until I arrived as far north and west as I could go without courting bears. I say this only to question its conclusion: that physical closeness is the only way to achieve closeness in a family.

People like to think that the old country was a simpler place. Today feels very complicated compared to that place. They did not have the internet or telephones or televisions or large libraries or modern science and medicine or any of the conveniences that we could not imagine living without today. When I think of the past, I usually imagine what the future will think of us. Will they laugh at our naiveté, our simple way of life? If they did they would be as wrong as we are in thinking that the past was simple. People of all times are complex and they live complicated lives. Life’s meaning and complications are not about the technologies or jobs or even standards of living. Life’s complexity is about, always was about, and always will be about the human relationship. Relationships and communication are what define the human condition. And the most complicated and rewarding of all relationships are the family relationships.

They say blood is thicker than water. It’s true. What they leave out, however, is that blood is also hotter than water. Family provides the greatest opportunity to learn about connections to other people. The danger with those connections is that there’s a risk involved. Once you’re in that circuit, your connection can easily burn you. To have a relationship you have to let people close to you. And once they’re close, they know about you, they understand your weaknesses.

It’s not that most of us are able to escape our families. You choose your friends but you don’t choose your family (except for your spouse—and you see how badly most of us do with that). Living close together with anyone is a recipe for disaster. Thanks to the information age, living close together has a different meaning, at first more complex and in some ways shallower.

This was more disorganized than usual. I thought I had something to say, but as I pieced this together tonight to place it in some condition for posting, I realized I didn’t. I wanted to talk about how families were difficult, but how you only have one family and you have to be careful not to fuck it up. I wanted to say how in the modern age there was closeness even when there was geographical distance. I wanted to talk about how much I loved my family, no matter how screwed up they are, or how screwed up I am, or how screwed up I made them. I wanted to say a whole bunch of things. But in the end I didn’t, except here. The simple statements are sometimes easier than my long convoluted ones. Conveying an emotion, in case you were wondering, was what I had planned. Searing and poorly organized logic is what I was left with.