First published in "Religious Perspectives" in The Gallup Independent, June 25, 2016.
Reprinted with permission.
The Hatfields and McCoys or the Montagues and Capulets of Romeo and Juliet—those might be the first names we think of in connection with a feud between two families. But what about feuds within a family? What about feuds within our own families?
A few weeks ago I posted a very simple meme on Facebook. It was a black background with words in white lettering, no colorful photos or drawings. Within two days it had been viewed by 470 people and had collected more shares and comments than anything I’d ever posted on my book page.
These were the words that, to my great surprise, struck such a chord with so many people:
It is very sad when members of the
same family do not talk with each
other. The children suffer for the
adult ego. Cousins miss the wonderful
opportunity to be together, and all due
to a bruised adult ego. Stop getting
offended. Reunite with your family
members. One day your imaginary
conflict will all come to an end… with
or without you. Don’t wait until it’s too
late. ~ http://genesology.com
So many commented that this had happened in their families. Some said they had learned to live with it. Others reposted the words, pleading with a family member to reconcile with other family members. Everyone expressed grief over their loss.
I had hesitated to post this quote because it was so personal to me. The breaking of family bonds often happens when someone comes out as LGBT or when they decide to marry a same-sex partner. That’s what brought about the estrangement within my family.
As the author of the quote says, the breaking of family ties often hurts the innocent younger generation. Last Christmas, my daughter and I met up with two of her cousins, their wives and children for dinner. As we sat at the table, one nephew asked me if I thought reconciliation could happen in our family. “I miss seeing my cousins. We used to have so much fun together when we were younger,” he said wistfully. I remembered how the cousins and uncles used to play hide and seek among the boulders, arroyos, and rabbit brush in Gamerco, running to safety and laughing with each other. I knew what he meant.
In the spring my daughter, that same cousin and another one got together. As they visited, they decided they wanted to create a family reunion with just their generation. “None of the parents,” they said, meaning the adults of my generation.
I thought, “How sad that we older adults will be banned because we can’t get along, because we don’t even talk to each other. It really comes down to our egos being hurt because we think differently. We can’t even agree to disagree.” At the same time I admired those three young people for thinking outside the box the older generation had created, for finding a way to have the connection they long for.
When siblings don’t speak to each other, the effects can ripple out beyond the family. I have two friends, sisters, both educators. A few years back we were working together on a project—me from Albuquerque and Gallup, they from two different communities in the Navajo Nation. I started to notice that they seemed to avoid any meetings that required getting together in the same location. When one of our gatherings was canceled, the reason seemed flimsy. I asked the sister who canceled it if she would call her sibling to let her know. She said she couldn’t, but she gave me a phone number she thought “might” be working.
That’s when I was sure the two of them weren’t speaking. I couldn’t help feeling pain for them and sad for all of us that two such talented women with a common purpose had become strangers. It also meant that a valuable project with great potential couldn’t move forward. A couple of years later, they seemed to have smoothed things out. The next time we worked on a project, they acted like the best of friends. I was glad.
I used to have a note on my refrigerator that said, “Would you rather be happy or be right?” I grew up in a religious tradition in which being right was the gold standard. Happiness was of little importance. In fact, it was more important to be right about what the Bible says than to love each other. Needing to be right leads to judgment and intolerance. And unhappiness. Healing family brokenness requires humility, not insisting that we agree on everything in order to be part of each other’s lives. And maybe it requires putting the younger generation’s needs for connection before our own egos.
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