… and not the ones I’m often accused of hugging a little too tightly :), but of the ones that represent family.
Family trees have been something that I never really got into. I’ve encountered quite a few intrepid historians in my lifetime and I have always loved their enthusiasm (and their stories on plenty of occasions). But when it came to my own family tree, I honestly have never had that pull that grabs people into the thrill of documenting the history of those who came before them.
It’s an odd admission for sure. My parents love passing down stories and I love writing and telling them. So you’d think I’d love to tell the story of characters that actually lived and breathed. I mean what could be more fascinating than the true tale of the folks that ultimately added to your very existence? It sounds pretty enticing doesn’t it? It sure does typing it. 😉 But beyond that whimsy, I’m confident (and tiny bit ashamed) when I say that I’ve never gave it much thought.
I think it stems from the fact that I’ve never been given reason to. This is only partially my fault, but I’ll own up to it. I’ve always felt that if a person doesn’t effect your life in anyway at all, than what’s the use in placing value in a connection that isn’t even there? Is a family member you’ve never met any different than a stranger you’ve never laid eyes on?
The literal answer is “no”. Because in my big existential hippie mind, I truly believe that we’re all family on this huge, spinning rock hurtling through space. That every human on this planet deserves at least the genuine prospect of the equal love, compassion and attention that a family member gets (I know, I know, easier said than done right?).
But… there is something more to being amongst your family members isn’t there? More than the simple act of caring for anyone and everyone. There is some inherent pull or symbiosis. An uncanny sense of belonging.
For some it’s more pronounced and obvious (for better or worse). For others? Not so much (also for better or worse). My situation isn’t a whole lot different. I’ve always been pretty guarded about my life, sharing my passions only with folks who had shown me genuine interest.
But now that I’m in my mid 30’s I’ve started questioning that exhausting protectiveness of mine. I still keep my cards close to my vest, but I’m slowly shedding that aspect of self-preservation/low self-esteem. One byproduct of this, is now, when anyone seems to want my opinion? I’m fine with giving it. So when my parents mentioned wanting to go and visit Dad’s cousin and her family in Sweden I had my usual knee-jerk reaction: “Why spend all that money on a trip to visit some folks you’ve never met?”
Well, it turns out it’s because they are awesome that’s why! 🙂 But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. So let’s rewind a bit.
Months ago, my Dad got correspondence somewhat out of nowhere from a Swedish cousin he’d never met (or if he did, it was LONG time ago). Her name was Lis and she was tracking us down to work on her own genealogy project, documenting her/our own family tree. To say my parents were smitten with this contact would be the understatement of the year. Before long Lis and my parents were in somewhat regular contact via email, finding out more about us and us about them. Always quick to share the emails, I started to learn a little about them. They seemed nice!
So when Melinda and I were planning our trip last year to Scandinavia, I took a chance and contacted them myself to see if they’d like us to visit. It’s always hard to glean intent or personality from emails when you don’t know the person very well, but immediately Melinda and I felt welcomed. The replies from Lis and her husband Ingvar were so warm, kind and more than generous. So planning to stay with them on the last leg of our trip was kind of a no-brainer.
Then this happened. And the trip was yanked from our tear-soaked hands (ok, a little over the top, sorry, but we were really bummed we had to cancel it).
It would seem like this opportunity to meet would be completely lost, but, it wasn’t. Through our last few emails to each other before we were supposed to leave on our trip, Lis often offered up the challenge:
“Now the question is, who will meet who first? Will the Swedes come to the U.S.? Or will the Americans come to Sweden?”
That thankfully got answered months (not years) later when Lis, Ingvar and their daughter Kristin visited the states and made the trip south to spend a week with us! Once the living arrangements were set up, we all agreed to meet for the first time at Tessa’s place. What was wonderful for Melinda and I was that my parents had previously shared tadandmel.com with them and that gave this wonderful foundation for them to build on when starting their new relationships with us. So much so, that when they came through the door, they new who we were by simply looking at Melinda and I. It was great! There wasn’t the usual awkwardness associated with meeting someone for the first time. Just smiles, hugs and immediate familiarity.
Of course, we had a lot to learn about them! And we did. The week they were here, Mel and I did our best to get time off to spend with them and though it was way too short, it was enough time to experience something I hadn’t really felt before. Or at least hadn’t felt to such an extent.
It was that pull, that inherent comfort, that you get from being around family. You know, the folks that accept you for all of your faults, know most of your secrets ;), and love you unconditionally. Of course, they made it really easy as they were amazing folks! Just as kind and warm as I had imagined.
I immediately felt comfortable around them and that doesn’t happen very often with me. I particularly felt an awesome connection to my cousin Kristin (who all the pics, aside from the top one, in this post were taken by). We discovered that we made a lot of the same decisions growing up. From our passion to write, love of nature, love of music, all the way down to our senior thesis focus in college (I went with Poe and she went with Sherlock Holmes), it was pretty uncanny how much our lives traveled in parallel. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other (I hope I didn’t blab too much, my family is a bunch talkers. Sometimes to our own detriment.), and we when had to say good bye, I really wished I didn’t have to.
Which was a surprise really. In the past when I’ve visited with the few family members we are in touch with, we’ve all kind of known when it was time to depart. I imagine that this is because my immediate family is filled with pretty strong personalities (putting it lightly). We’re incredibly different from each other and though we love each other deeply, we also know when each of us needs our space. So when our Swedish family visited I naturally assumed they’d grow tired of us and want to leave LOL!
But they didn’t, or at least they didn’t seem to. All told it was a pretty amazing time! We did lots of stuff during their visit, showing them the area. Baseball games, historical landmarks, live music, art exhibits, museums, pubs, southern food, it was amazing what we got to wrangle into that week. During all of it, a thought came frequently into my head: “Man, these folks are wonderful aren’t they? And they’re FAMILY. Family from far away.”
So, just like that, my “out of sight, out of mind” theory about family/people, started crumbling. Before long, I not only was happy to find a branch on my family tree that I could relate to on many levels, but was also feeling a good amount of pride.
Bar none, I wasn’t expecting that from this visit.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting the opposite. It’s just that, while I knew I’d like our Swedish family members, I didn’t think I’d genuinely love them as people and enjoy their company so much. I certainly didn’t expect to miss them after they left. At least not as much as I do.
And I do.
The story’s not over though. We’ll keep writing it when we head over the pond to visit in September. 😉