Family Legacies


I don’t know how people do families.  I mean, seriously.

Take me, for example.  I don’t do family well AT ALL.  I barely do my in-laws.  I find all the relationships and intersections and anger and history so overwhelming.

I have always admired Thoreau.  And anyone else who takes off and lives alone for years.  (Though his mother did bring him food.  I love the idea of being a hermit who gets free takeout.  I could fully embrace the idea, especially if my partner had the next cave over, because she is the one person I don’t care to do without for more than say,  5-10 days at the outside.  When we’re getting along, that is.  But adjoining caves with free takeout?  Sign me up.)

Anyhow, I have recently had the opportunity to see myself reflected in my family members, and I am struck, more than anything else, by our competition and arrogance.  I mean, first of all, I have known for at least a decade that competition, constant comparing and keeping a score sheet, and thinking I’m better than other people, were persistent problems in the way I construct the world.  And, okay, I’m one of six, so the competition was going to be a given under the best of circumstances…and it wasn’t the best of circumstances, believe me.

I will say, speaking of my own arrogance and my struggle to get a lot more honest about what it covers up, that the piece I can’t let go of is thinking that I’m the smartest person in the room.  Well, the city, probably.  Maybe the state.  Who knows.  The universe?  It’s not out of the question.

And my ridiculous memory makes it look that way a lot.  My partner has no memory to speak of (although she has an incredible talent for finding things I’ve lost), but what I’ve learned is that she is often wise, caring and decent.  She’s also much more intelligent than she gives herself credit for.  I find that while we laugh at my arrogance and are able to hold it lightly, this is only possible because I respect her kindness and really want to know her view on things.  There are many kinds of intelligence.  My partner is a deeply emotionally intelligent person.  (Except when she’s not, and boy do I remember every single one of those times.)

Anyhow, I am beginning to see that the sibling competition(which comes from wanting love and attention that was just plain unavailable) leads to arrogance.  Basically, in my family, everyone thinks they’re better than everyone else.  The sober ones think they’re better than the drinkers, and the drinkers think the sober ones are conformist bores, and the religious ones think they are morally superior, and the ones in therapy think they’re better than the ones not in therapy and the thin ones think they’re better than the heavy ones and for all I know the men with hair think they’re better than the bald ones.  Any excuse.  The comparisons never end.

Because I have avoided my family so assiduously, I thought I was the only one who was so ridiculously screwed up and arrogant, but with just a little bit of contact in the last 6 weeks, I’ve learned it really is a family condition.  I’d love to write a play in which there was a multi-media component advertising the thoughts of all members of this huge family in which they’re secretly comparing and judging.  Only of course it’s not a secret and everyone’s hurt that they’re being judged and judging each other even worse to defend themselves against the hurt of feeling judged.

Human beings are truly insane.  All of us.

I would like to cop to the fact that with my family, I have a lot of one-up thinking.  And yet I can see that some of my relatives have good things in their lives that I wish I had–even if I don’t like their behavior otherwise.  And I can certainly see that when it comes to being complicated, difficult and high maintenance, I can hang in with the best of them.  Especially the complicated part, I like to think, but here it is, me constructing the world, so who knows what is true and where I’m letting myself off the hook.

I don’t know how we do families.  Maybe people just love each other without the pain and angst that fuel the competition and arrogance in my family.  I don’t know.  I kind of doubt it.  So I am just grateful, every day, that I am allowed not to know, and that I can watch myself constructing the universe and laugh about it enough that in the end I have a brief opportunity to just get present and know one right thing at a time.

On my good days, that is.  I’m hoping this is one of them.

Metta for all of us, in and out of families, doing our best to find love instead of competition, wanting so much to belong to something that we hope will last.

Metta.  I can’t change any of it, maybe not even myself, but still, metta.  Peace.

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One thought on “Family Legacies

  1. Wow. Thanks for sharing. My wife’s slogan is “make NEW mistakes!” Meaning, don’t keep making the same mistakes over again — especially the ones that we grew up with. Try something different, knowing that leaving the comfort of the known doesn’t mean leaving mistakes behind — but there’s a chance of getting some things right or at least learning something new.

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