So here we are on the far side of Christmas day. The sleepless nights of knitting and wrapping presents, hours of trying to find the perfect present for each person, the cooking, the cleaning, and the decorating are all finished. We made it to Mass, we had enough food for everyone, lots of nice presents (a few good gag gifts of course!), and a ton of family to spend the day with. The presents are all unwrapped (I think) and all that is left is to settle down into the rest of the twelve days of Christmas. All in all, we managed pretty neatly.
This morning, in the calm after the storm, I sat in our living room nursing a sugar-high/sleep deprivation induced headache, watching my niece open the last of her presents (for some reason, she just wasn’t into the whole ripping-the-paper-off-a-box thing yesterday) and trying to come up with something to write. My family attempted to be helpful, offering ideas that ranged from “two free grams of wool!” to something about the thunderstorms we had yesterday. Somehow, though, all of the ideas led back to the same place. Christmas is the perfect time to think about family and, at this point, I see no point in fighting that.
Family is kind of like an heirloom jewelry box. Such boxes, passed down through a few generations, usually include pieces of jewelry. These are items to be treasured not only because of their value as jewelry, but because they are a link to the past, a part of the owner’s history. They are like our biological families. We cannot choose them, but we love them anyway. Also in the box, though, there are pieces that are not heirlooms. These have been gathered together as the jewelry box’s owner goes through life. Their value is not diminished by not being passed down from generation to generation. They are very often as meaningful and precious as the heirlooms.
Families have to expand. Often it is through the birth of a new member, but sometimes the expansion happens because we have met people who become family; friends who, somewhere along the line, grew too beloved to be considered mere friends. These are people who have influenced our lives more profoundly than they can imagine, and whose absence is felt every bit as sharply as an “heirloom” family member’s.
Sadly, some collected family members seem to have trouble accepting that they have been captured and inducted into the ranks. Some element in the past prevents the acceptance of the current situation. In many cases, it is far easier to be the person who loves than to be the person who is loved. In Lois Lowry’s The Giver, for instance, the Giver is a man haunted by his past failings. His family was torn apart, and he is forever pained by his part in the tragedy. The story’s main character, Jonas, learns that the Giver failed in the past almost as soon as the two meet. As the story progresses, Jonas learns more about the details of the failure. Despite knowing this, he soon learns to love the Giver, who becomes something like a grandfather to him.
Jonas and the Giver become each other’s family. It is much easier for Jonas to take the Giver on as family—faults, failures and all—than it is for the Giver to accept being taken in as family. Nonetheless, the Giver is instrumental in helping Jonas get to the place where he needs to be, the place where he can fulfill his potential. Jonas needs the Giver as much as the Giver needs him.
A family is not about whether the members deserve each other. Families exist because the members need each other and so God brings them together. This is true for both biological and collected family members. One of the effects of Original Sin is that very few persons have managed to really deserve the good things that life gives them. The love of family is one of those goods that we cannot hope to deserve. It is, instead, something that we can only be grateful that God, in his infinite mercy, has decided that it is a gift we need. After all, saving a world full of people who didn’t deserve it, and collecting them into His family was the reason Jesus was born.