Finding the Gift of Family

The Other 6
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The earth was awakening after her long deep-freeze sleep. Little green leaves sprouting from tulip bulbs hesitantly explored the temperature with full- colored blossoming on their mind. Tree twigs were already pregnant with anticipation of rich foliage. Cardinals sang their lovely “stay-out-of-my-tree“ territorial rhapsodies. Nature was impatiently astir with anticipation.

So were we—all 16 of us in the crammed seats of an airplane on our way to a reunion with our extended family. Some of us slept, but most were wide awake with excitement about meeting unknown aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.

No one expected that so many relatives would enthusiastically and unanimously respond to the call to assemble. But assemble they did! The crowd, gathered in the fellowship hall of a small church, numbered more than 100 people. The space was filled with the murmur of varied conversations. Many of the participants had never seen each other, much less spoken to each other. But now we conversed, hugged each other, and explored the nature of our relationships. “Whose son are you?” “Where do you live?” “How many children do you have?” The questions mixed together in a rumbling cacophony of sound.

As I wandered about the room shaking hands, hugging, and meeting nieces and nephews, I wondered about the miracle that is called family. Somewhere in the hidden source of it all is he whose origin is from everlasting. King David says in Psalm 139 that God is present in the events of our earthly journey from the very beginning. “There must be some guiding hand behind belonging together,” I thought. “Being related must be more than an accident of birth, more than the rhythm of blood.” It was as if that unspoken reality came to expression in the bond that brought us together from far-flung places.

I watched and listened and felt the warm glow of empathy. There were words of joy but also tears of compassion. There was laughter, a lot of it, but I also heard expressions of concern. There was in that room an undeniable atmosphere of affection and fondness—camaraderie that usually occurs only between people who share more common circumstances.

What I experienced most strongly was the sense of fellowship. Perhaps communion is a better word. Not the communion of saints, but the communion of family. A togetherness that exists in spite of geographic separation. A belonging that drives away detachment. The reunion was for me an important repeat visit to a milepost in the never-ending journey of self-discovery, because family explains part of myself. I found my place in the cycle of generations. At one end was the youngest attendee—2 years old—and at the other end were some, I among them, feeling the weight of eight decades of life. There was in me an awareness of gift—the rich and wonderful gift of family.

As the 16 of us traveled back home, we talked, above the drone of the airplane’s engines, about how each of us experienced the event. Most common among us was the re-discovered knowledge of being part of an extended family.

I sat there uncomfortably, my long legs seeking room to stretch, scanning the faces of my children. I experienced again the disadvantage of geographical distance that keeps us separated from so much kin. But there was also gratitude for having been able to touch a union that extends way beyond our small number and spans all distances.

The tulips, now in full bloom, welcomed us back.

About the Author

Rev. Carl Tuyl is a retired minister in the Christian Reformed Church. He lives in Toronto.
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