When you hear the word ‘family’, your knee jerk response may be to define the word as ‘individuals connected via DNA’.
Now, I could say it’s because my own personal familial journey is far from conventional, but I’m not so sure. I think as we get older, we redefine the world around us, which includes who makes up our ‘family’. With the day of love bearing down on us with hands full of chocolate and flowers, I started to ponder on the loves in my life.
Given are my boys–both my Knight in Slightly Muddy Armor and the Prankster Duo. The explanation there is straightforward–I committed my life to one, gave birth to the other two (as my mom is fond of claiming, “I toiled through the valley of death to bring you into this world.” Which, of course, in her case is a bit of a stretch, since I hit her doorstep at twelve, but you get the point). So yes, they are family, my family.
But I have more.
There is the group of individuals connected via DNA–aunts, uncles, cousins–that I’ve been blessed to be able to keep in my life even though my roads have wandered far. While we may not be intimately part of each other’s lives, I take joy in celebrating their accomplishments. For example, sharing the excitement of my cousin’s daughter, the wunderkind college basketball player, treasuring my beloved aunt, who is always there to share this wild ride of life, or the stunning beauty of my cousin’s oldest daughter as she walked down the aisle to her beloved. They too are my family.
Then there are those families I’ve been blessed to meet along the way.
Friends I’ve known for years and years and years. Those I made in high school, who may now be spread like grains on the wind, but are still there to share a laugh or shed a tear via social media. It may be years between face to face visits, but those long stretches don’t diminish our friendships. One example, there were three of us in high school who dreamed of taking the theater world by storm before our plans changed. We went through shared crushes, opening nights, laughter, tears and the normal angst of teens. Now one has two precious girls she always wanted, stands strong while her husband’s on deployment, helped create my wedding gown twenty years ago, and who I miss, but we haven’t seen each other in years. But she’s still there, cheering me on every time another book hits, and I’m there to jump up and down when one of her girls wins another ribbon or kicks much butt. One left for the bright lights back east and recently returned to stay, with two precious boys in tow. I was beyond ecstatic to be able to meet her for lunch, and even better, it was as if no time had passed. High school, painful though it can be at times, can also give you a circle of friends that will last well beyond most.
Then there are those friends who came along after–through college and after. Like the best friend who was my partner in crime through college. Hell, we even ended up working at the same hotels for awhile. Or the best friends I found when joining a critique group–the core of which survived almost ten years. Ain’t nothing like writing besties–they get the drama that comes with being a writer.
Which lead to those cherished friends, also found through writing communities, they too are family. Although we may live miles (sometimes thousands) apart, I’ve been lucky to meet a couple in ‘real life’. The stalwart survivor who never lost her sense of wonder and humor, Christine, or the shining beauty and freakin’ awesome, Nana. Not to mention there are those I have yet to be blessed to meet in ‘real life’ and maybe someday I’ll get a chance. The strong and resilient writer with her beautiful fur babies, Mona, or the funny and compassionate nurse, Liv. Then there’s Debbie and Deb, Alan, Nathan, and the list goes on. Whether it’s discussing craft, family or life in general, I count them as friends and family of the heart.
The point of this is, our ‘families’ are defined not by DNA but by the bonds we share. As a writer, an artist, a human, it’s easy to forget that family can be defined in many different ways. Especially when you get stuck in one of those shadowy corners you can sometimes find yourself in. If one thing being part of the writing community has taught me, it’s that you’re never truly alone.
So for this Valentine’s Day, I have to say “Love you, guys” whether we talk every day, once a year, or once a decade, I’m glad you’re my family.