Sunday, June 17, 2007

Family Reunion

I normally try to make each visit to Israel last for at least two or three weeks, but I had to be back early this time for a family reunion up at Keith's cabin. My cousin Bethany, along with her husband Dan and their four kids are missionaries in Tanzania, where they're in the long process of building an orphanage. They've got four great kids, raised in Tanzania and as fluent in Swahili as English, who have spent the last year adjusting to US public schools. The six of them are returning to Tanzania on Monday, and this was our last chance to spend time with them. So Keith invited that whole branch of the family up to his cabin: some 20 people from around the northwest, plus the half dozen or so friends and acquaintances who showed up for varying lengths of time. So when my flight landed at 11:00 am, Galena was there to pick me up, and we drove straight up to Keith's cabin.

The weekend could, I think, be summarized with a quote from G. K. Chesterton's Heretics:
The modern writers who have suggested, in a more or less open manner, that the family is a bad institution, have generally confined themselves to suggesting, with much sharpness, bitterness, or pathos, that perhaps the family is not always very congenial. Of course the family is a good institution because it is uncongenial. It is wholesome precisely because it contains so many divergencies and varieties. It is, as the sentimentalists say, like a little kingdom, and, like most other little kingdoms, is generally in a state of something resembling anarchy. It is exactly because our brother George is not interested in our religious difficulties, but is interested in the Trocadero Restaurant, that the family has some of the bracing qualities of the commonwealth. It is precisely because our uncle Henry does not approve of the theatrical ambitions of our sister Sarah that the family is like humanity. The men and women who, for good reasons and bad, revolt against the family, are, for good reasons and bad, simply revolting against mankind. Aunt Elizabeth is unreasonable, like mankind. Papa is excitable, like mankind. Our youngest brother is mischievous, like mankind. Grandpapa is stupid, like the world; he is old, like the world.

(The whole chapter is very worth reading, by the way: it's formed as much of my thinking about personal relationships as any book I've read.)

From my choice of quote, I suppose you could gather correctly that our family has a wide range of interesting members. We've got academics, retirees, businessmen (and women), missionaries, preachers, blue collar workers of every stripe, computer geeks, homemakers, writers, and several folks whose occupation remains unclear. We tell stories: loud, funny, sad, pointless ones, incessantly. We argue. We preach and lecture. We demand attention. This weekend, we rode motorcycles, went on hikes, froze our asses off trying to jetski on the lake. We yelled at kids running through the house, and shrugged at the waterfight happening (again) out by the hot tub. For about 15 minutes we turned on the TV, but we decided that we were more entertaining, and it never came on again. Every time I tried to read a book, or check email, or work on this blog posting, someone was at my elbow, interrupting, asking questions, telling another story.

For someone like myself, who is fundamentally anti-social and enjoys solitude like some people enjoy chocolate, it was sometimes a sore trial. But family is good because it is family: it needs no other justification.

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