The concept of family has been on my mind lately. For the past several years, members of the older generation, especially in the church, have begun to complain that the power of the nuclear family is waning. They claim that this is the primary cause of many of today’s societal problems. While parental guidance is vital to a child’s formative years, is drifting away from the family unit when one is an adult really the catastrophe that many claim?
I’m not talking about individuals who break away from the family unit and remain solitary, but rather those who seek a tribe outside their kin. There are many people, myself included, who find that they cohere less with their blood relations and more with other groups. Are harmonious belief systems, temperaments, and attitudes less important than DNA?
Did not Jesus tell us that blood is not the defining factor in family? In Matthew 12:50, Jesus says, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Christianity is founded on the idea of a stronger bond than blood, the bond of Christ. Why then does the Church insist that blood ties are the strongest there are?
I have many parents and siblings that do not share my blood, but who are family to be nonetheless.
What do you think of the family unit: is it defined by DNA sequences or spirit?
I have been blessed with more family than I deserve. There are so many people in my life who have taken me in and treated me as their daughter or sister despite the fact that I have no blood ties to them. One of them died two weeks ago.
There are different types of secondhand death. There are the people with whom you occasionally associated, but didn’t really know. They die suddenly, shocking you out of your routine. Their deaths make you realize how precious life is, and for a few months, you make sure to tell people that you love them.
There are the close friends and family members who are sick or old. Their deaths do not surprise you. In a way, it’s a relief–you know that they aren’t in pain anymore. Their deaths, as their lives, make a lasting impression.
Then there are the sudden deaths of those you love. This experience somehow mixes the numbing shock of suddenness with the intense pain of loss. It’s not real for days, weeks even. They’re not gone, you see. They can’t be.
I’m not sad for my friend. He is safe in God’s hands now, just as he was in life. I am sad for us, those who are left behind: his wife, kids, friends, and colleagues. I’m sad for the thousand-plus people who were at his visitation and funeral, and those who couldn’t make it. As one man said at his funeral: “I know that if he were here, he would tell me that he’s okay. But I guess what I really need to hear him say is that I’m going to be okay, too.”
On Tuesday, many of his friends went to Starbucks to honor him. We all ordered his favorite drink and gave his name to the barista (the poor man was confused when the café was filled with Jeffs, some of them female). Then we toasted our friend.