This week I received a birthday greeting from a family member. Like all of the others from this relative, the rather expensive card was carefully selected — this one specific to a 70-year-old male — and simply signed with their name. There was no preface to the card nor a closing to personalize it. I also got a much more personal greeting from another family member. This one had no card, but rather it was a sheaf of papers tightly stuffed in a number ten envelop. Most of the contents described a charity bike ride sponsored by a religious group, the funds from which were to be used for shelter for children with HIV disease in Thailand. Handwritten notes in the margins explained that I must be interested in this cause, so a gift was sent to the group as a present to me.
The ground beneath these two greetings seems squishy to me, like it could suck me in if I kicked or fussed. Both of these family members could reasonably argue that they love me. The former, they-who-will-never-give-more-than-a-signature, excised me from their children’s lives with such precision that I only know of their marriages and grandchildren from a genealogy website. The latter, they-who-will-not-support-my-direct-request-for-gifts-to-human-service-agencies-or-my-choosing, has developed a clan of children who express disdain for my life. I do acknowledge that both of these family members love me in their ways. But they do not accept me. The former avoids me; the latter tolerates me.
I fear that they both pray for me. Not in a good way.
The ex-spouse of another relative took me to lunch this week. We had a lovely time catching up and learning more and more about each other’s lives through the sharing of intimacies. Another relative and I have butted heads every day this week as we are testing the waters for a closer relationship. We know where we are headed despite our limited ability to see how to get there.
Sweet friends have also sent lovely texts and emails. A few calls from others were expressions of real fondness. Last night over dinner, I remarked to a young couple in my life that I had had a crush on a cousin when I was four and he was 20. We had been talking about tattoos and that cousin wore his Marine insignia proudly. I joked with another friend who was describing the location of a business, using a hearing aid shop as a landmark. I said, “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
These people — the ex-spouse, the relative seeking closeness, my sweet friends — they are all with me, accepting me, even appreciating me, as I stand at the edge of the quicksand that is my family, peering into it. But I cannot earn their acceptance, unless there is something wrong with me that can be changed.
But there is nothing wrong with my love.