10.15.2012

Musings on Blood and Water

"Blood is thicker than water."

I hate this phrase. I hate it more than my friend and Creative Commoners co-host Chris Armstrong probably hates the phrase, "It is what it is."

It's meant to be one of those clever idioms where the literal truth is supposed to lend itself to a more poetic one, but poems are airy and shifty little things. They aren't one-size-fits-all, and in my particular case, the poetry just passes right through me, sticking to very little on its way out.

To me, the notion that the family you are born with is automatically better than the one you pick for yourself is fundamentally bullshit. It's the same notion that's related to unfailing patriotism, which I also find to be bullshit.  Our culture puts so much emphasis on the virtues of free will that it astounds me how much we put products of simple fate up on a pedestal. You can't pick your family. You can't pick your country of origin. So WHY do these things command our unquestioned allegiance? Sometimes we're just lucky. We're lucky to have great families. We're lucky to live in great countries. That's it. Luck. We can be grateful for that luck, but that's not the same as being completely subservient to it. These expressions were created by people who have never truly suffered as a result of who they were or where they were born. Or they're adhered to by people who are too afraid to say otherwise, out of fear of punishment. Try saying them to a starving African refugee and see what kind of blank stare you get in return.

Without delving into things best saved for a tell-all memoir I will likely never write, I can say I've always felt very alienated from family outside my immediate circle. I've never had anything more than superficial (at best) relationships with my grandparents. They never really seemed all that interested in who I grew into as I got older, and they really weren't all that interested in me when  I was a kid, either. My emotional connection to my bloodline thins the further out I go. Aunts, uncles, cousins? We might as well be strangers. Physical distance might have been to blame for some of this. We lived in different states for much of our lives, but there were so many other factors and conflicts at play that drove the wedge deeper. I think the biggest one is this: we just don't really like each other all that much.

Maybe they'll scoff outwardly at that, but it's true. We might be related, but that is all we have in common. Or all we care to know about one another. You'd think, if we did like each other, we'd strive to be in each other's lives more. That we'd want to learn more about one another. That we'd visit or write or talk on the phone more. But we don't. The only glue holding us together is a few strands of genetic code. We didn't ask to be born in the same family. We just were. And now the only thing we can do is just grin and bear it. At least until we decide not to and take control of our own lives and ask ourselves why the hell we're doing this. Why are we forcing ourselves to sit in a room with a bunch of people we don't really like, cook for them, give them Christmas presents, endure conversation that bores us in every possible way? ESPECIALLY if some of these people have caused us genuine pain and heartache. Why do we continue to play in this mismatched orchestra with its tuneless and jangling notes, when we could be hanging out with people who actually do bring something positive and harmonious to our lives? People who have a mutual desire to understand and love one another. People who don't go out of their way to make you suffer? Why does this faulty notion of "family above all" trump one in which we just spend time with people we don't despise?

Well, it shouldn't. When politicians speak of "family values" as this virtuous thing, I hope they weren't talking about my (non-immediate) family, because it would essentially mean a group people who simply endure the company of people they loathe, out of a sense of obligation and little more. A certain measure of cowardice. A desire to avoid conflict. That is probably not the best thing on which to model a happier society. I sincerely hope we all would aspire to more than that with our relationships in the short time we have on this planet. If you don't like your family, there are a few billion other people out there who might better provide what we're looking for. We should not hang onto toxic relationships under the false belief that "we can't give up on family."

Fuck yes we can give up on "family." In a lot of cases, we absolutely should. That it shares a portion of your DNA is not enough reason to keep it in your life if all it does is bring you down.

So yeah, blood and water. I'll tell you the real difference between the two:

Blood is harder to wash off. It stains and leaves a permanent reminder that it was there, even after you've wiped it away.

Water, on the other hand, is life. You can't have blood without it. If you have no water in your blood, you have little more than dull little flakes that are useless to anyone. The best thing you can do is scrape them off and move on in search of that grand oasis, of chosen family.