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Family, revised

I first stayed with the M family three years ago. I was seven months pregnant and had just learned my mom had cancer. I was a wreck, but the M family was so gracious and loving with me, a stranger, that I hardly felt like one. I was grateful for their grace.

Two nights ago, I got a massage that was routine until the moment the masseuse began massaging my scalp. I was catapulted back in time to a moment I recalled on Facebook:

Some years ago, I was getting my hair cut when an older lady came in and paid a nearby stylist to rub her scalp. I was repulsed by the lesions that covered her head. 

“How do you do that?” I asked the stylist after the lady had left. “It’s so gross.”

“I wear gloves,” she replied simply. My question warranted no further reply.

Tonight I remember this but cannot for the life of me remember why I cared so damned much about the state of someone else’s head and who would or would not touch it. I wish everyone, everywhere, could experience as much loving touch as they desire without fear, grimaces, or exchange of money.

I wondered when I had changed, as if there was one single moment of transformation. Facebook comments helped me point my thoughts the right direction, and I found my answer before too long:

The single biggest compassion-building experience of my life was having my mom become “that crazy bag lady” digging through downtown trash cans for food and knick-knacks. Being the daughter of that lady made it so much easier to understand that every “crazy bag lady” is a human being loved and missed by someone, somewhere.

I awakened in the morning to find my sister Rache had added her own moving thoughts on the matter:

“When I first saw Mom going through the trash, my heart broke. Then there were times when I saw her walking down the street, muttering to herself, and I wanted to stop and talk to her, but I was so afraid… I don’t know of what. Thankfully, I decided, screw it, I don’t care what people think of me, if they know I’m the daughter of the crazy bag lady who picks up cigarette butts and talks to squirrels. She’s my crazy bag lady. And once she remembered who I was, she remembered she loved me. And then I understood compassion doesn’t care about the dirt on the other person’s shoes, the grime on their hands, or their ragged clothes. Compassion doesn’t care if you get dirty while you’re hugging someone, or what other people will think if they know the people you love are broken. Compassion is love, and overpowering even that love, it is acceptance. Pure and simple.” 

Rache & me

These discussions were far from my mind as Anthony, Li’l D and I drove south to visit the M family and our also-visiting friends Dave and Elsha. But when I awakened at 3 a.m. to the sound of rain, everything blended together. I’d grown up to the sound of rain eight months annually, so the sound of rain already carries me back home no matter where I am. In this house particularly, it amplified my sense of home. I drifted back to sleep, smiling and content in the presence of those (mostly) not my blood who welcome me with open arms at my best and my worst.

These people are my family, and in their presence, I am home.

As I write this post on scrap paper at the M family’s dining room table, Li’l D and his friend Buzz are hunched over an iPad together, playing “Trucks.” Anthony and Elsha are eating Elsha’s homemade guacamole. Dave and the M family parents are doing their parts to make chili for lunch. I watch and I listen, and as my hand cramps from this writing, my heart expands at the thought of all the love that fills my life.

Buzz and Li’l D

Three years ago, when I first set foot in this house, Buzz was just a tiny baby and Li’l D was two months from meeting my arms. I feared then that my family, already small, would soon grow smaller.

In this moment, it is as clear as day that while my family has changed, it is not because it has grown smaller. My mom lives on in my heart, and the family that lives on in this outer world has grown even stronger.

Change is inevitable. So, too, in the company of family of choice, is the certainty love will help me weather it.

This was among posts accidentally deleted from this blog.
Reposted 6/30/16

  1. June 30, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    I shudder when I remember moments I’ve had when I judged something that wasn’t mine to judge, or recoiled from someone for a superficial reason. But these moments made me who I am today, a person who still has mistakes to make because I’m still alive, but who has more empathy than I did before, because I’ve learned better about so many things.

    The M family sounds wonderful. I love the term ‘family of choice’. How grounding it must feel to have such kind people in your life. Today I really needed to hear something good about kindness and trust. Thank you.

    • June 30, 2016 at 9:06 pm

      these moments made me who I am today, a person who still has mistakes to make because I’m still alive, but who has more empathy than I did before, because I’ve learned better about so many things.
      Hear, hear. I still have these moments where I remember something I did 18 years ago and think, “I’m a terrible person!!!” I then think about how different I am from the me who lived then, and feel more confident that what I learned then shaped me now.

      The M family is indeed wonderful. We visited them a couple of weeks ago. I was actually at their house when I read the Miranda article I mention in the post I started writing today. When we got there, I took a picture of Littler playing in their yellow room and got a little misty eyed:

      “Seven years ago, pregnant with this little one’s older brother, I slept in this room for the first time and felt totally at home … with people I’d just met for the very first time. I love this room, but it’s not really about the room.”

      There are trustworthy, loving, lovable people out there. In here. I love to imagine us all sitting together someday, sitting around and saying nothing and everything all at once. ♥

  2. July 1, 2016 at 4:11 am

    You’ve tapped into a topic that I’ve always found fascinating. That is, where do I belong? Clearly you’ve found your family and being self-aware, you know it. But so many people seem to limit their definition of family to biological, and that, it seems to me, is where the troubles start. I’m happy and encouraged to know that despite your mother’s situation, you’ve found a place to belong. Good job, Deborah.

    • July 1, 2016 at 5:08 am

      I totally agree about the trouble in that narrow definition of family! I see so many people accept cruelties subtle and sweeping alike because they’re worked by blood. So much is lost that way.

      I wonder if my take was inevitable given my childhood distance from blood family. Outside my home, “family” began with my godmother (who was somehow surprised when I asked her to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day). Later, it expanded to include our next door neighbor as well as my sister’s boyfriend and his mom … and that was just the beginning. Happily. ♡

  3. July 1, 2016 at 4:18 am

    What a wonderful post. Besides the bright and clear message it says so much between the lines. We all unconsciously judge people, it’s a great attribute of the mind that we can override that judgement and find compassion. I hope the M family is still part of your family 🙂

    Out of curiosity, when was this written? From the little I know my guess is about 3 years ago.

    • July 1, 2016 at 5:14 am

      Thank you!

      Despite this recent example, I remember thinking a couple years back how I couldn’t possibly be making snap judgments about people before they’ve even spoken. Paying attention, I started noticing hints to the contrary, and have made peace with the fact of that … as well as the good that comes from awareness of that.

      The M family is still part of my family. We just spent a weekend with them a couple weeks back and it filled my heart, remembering seven years of shared history and anticipating many more.

      You’re pretty darn close on the date! This post is 3.5 years old. 🙂

      • July 1, 2016 at 5:27 am

        We are only human, but the more self aware we are the better.

        A few days ago you brought up Li’l D’s first blog post and said something about being a first grader, which in my mind equals six, so since this post was written three years after two months before he was born, well, that is about three years ago (yes, I’m a math nerd 😉 )

  4. July 1, 2016 at 5:09 am

    This is a beautiful post. I think becoming mothers goes a long way to accepting others. I can’t think of a more humbling experience than that.

  5. July 1, 2016 at 5:47 am

    I’m so glad you posted this when you did. I have been having a time lately with my family, and needed that oh so obvious push to remind me that family doesn’t need to be wrapped in genetics and science but can also be a cup of loving kindness from friends.
    When I was younger I hated my mother. As I’ve grown over the last year I can look back and feel sad for her. Her mental illness was obvious yet so many professionals missed it. I missed it. I have moments where I see her vividly with love, and then the next is of days filled with physical and emotional pain. She was lost. My Love holds nothing against her, but when others saw it, it left a mark on my soul. I needed to be reminded of empathy too it seems.
    Thud friend.💜

    • July 1, 2016 at 5:52 am

      My comments have not been showing up-hence the two I made lol. WordPress is making me work this morning😊😍

      • July 1, 2016 at 6:00 am

        I should be flying out the door already, but I wanted to reply to this comment first! I moderate all comments here, so it can sometimes take up to a half a day for comments to show up. 🙂 I love both your comments on this post, so thank you. Happy Friday. ♥

  6. July 1, 2016 at 5:50 am

    I tried to leave a comment here last night, but my mind was a wandering in unforgiving directions. This post hit me in the feels sweet lady.
    Family does not need to be scientifically matched-for those that hold my heart so gently are more family than I ever could have hoped for.
    Thank you for this reminder. Thud my friend. Thud.

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