Thursday, May 24, 2007

More Than We Know

I mentioned, last week, that I visited my family in Pensacola, Florida, for Mother's Day.

During that visit, my aunt asked her son (my cousin) if he'd shown me the invitations to his high school graduation. He didn't have one for me, then, but he offered a verbal invitation for the middle of the following week. I told him I'd see if I could get the time off.

I had quite a few reasons not to go:
1) I'd just spent a lot of money for Mother's Day.
2) I'd recently traveled quite a bit.
3) My cousin and I have only seen each other a handful of times and, although I have nothing against him, we aren't very close.
The list goes on.

I had one reason to go:
1) He asked me to.
Now, to be honest, it seemed to me that my cousin only invited me at his mother's urging and it seemed clear that she hadn't considered inviting me prior to my arrival the week before. That doesn't offend me at all, but it appeared that I wouldn't be missed if I didn't show.

However, I wasn't completely sure about that.

I should mention that this cousin is adopted. Now, that doesn't make a difference, to me. It's been almost 20 years since my aunt took in a troubled child (a troubled baby, actually) in need of a warm home and a loving family. So he's been a part of the family long enough that I rarely think about the fact that we don't have the same blood in our veins.

Quick digression: It's funny how family, often defined simply by genetic chance, is largely a social construct with boundaries that are only limited by how far we open our hearts and minds.

Anyway, despite the fact that he's family, he may not always feel like he is - especially since he's got troubles that've carried over from his past. That plus the fact that my "real" cousins, whose lives I've tried to be a part of from the beginning, have often left me out of such milestone moments in their lives... made this invitation matter a bit more to me than expected.

He's a young man trying to forge a bright future and he asked me to be a part of the ceremony that initiates this. I couldn't say, "No." After securing the leave time, I agreed to go.

My girlfriend hadn't seen my family in a while (and vice-versa) so it was especially nice that she cared enough to take time off and accompany me.

We arrived in Pensacola, went to my cousin's graduation, noting how few of us (the family) showed up, took a bunch of pictures, loved him up, then went to an "after-party" of sorts, at a local restaurant. This get-together was organized by a member of my aunt's religious assembly, for lack of a better word. Besides my aunt and cousin, my girlfriend and I were the only attendees who weren't members of that religious group.

That's another thing. This religious group, to which my aunt and cousin belong, isn't quite "mainstream." My aunt changed from the predominant religion in our family to her current religion, decades, ago. My family's response to this was between extremes. Not great, but not terrible, either.

"Lukewarm" sounds about right.

So, members of my aunt's biological family (my girlfriend and I) interacted with my aunt's religious family, which I don't think has ever happened before. It went well.

I found out that my cousin had told people that I was coming and how happy this made him.

This surprised me. A lot.

In the end, we all laughed, filled our bellies, and generally had a good time. After it was over, I began to re-evaluate how much this event meant to me, to aunt, and to my cousin.

For me, it was nice to feel wanted and welcomed by family.
For my aunt, I think it was nice to have a positive interaction between her two families.
For my cousin and my aunt, I also think it was nice to feel that someone else in the family was taking an interest in his happiness and future.

So, I guess this was my long-winded way of saying that the choices we make and the things we do for and with our loved-ones can matter much more than we realize, at the time - even to ourselves. I'm glad that, in this instance at least, I didn't pass on an opportunity to bring some of the family even closer together.

For that matter, I'm also very happy with my girlfriend's choice to be a part of the whole thing - even when my grandmother's health was a concern and we accompanied her to and from the hospital, yesterday.


Anonymous said...


Its true!

Your heart and spirit really do reside in your smile.

This is so lovely I am going to email it to my brother, himself en route to the Mid-West to sneak up on a niece with whom we have virtually no relationship, save her infrequent efforts to maintain contact with us.

Peace and love to you.

Angie said...

West, sometimes we aren't aware of the effect we have on other peoples lives. My younger cousin shared with me how she modeled herself after me (starting a business) , and how she looked up to me. I'd never looked at it that way. I just thought I was hustling and trying to be a good person.

That young man may be looking to you as a model - and he was proud that you came to see him graduate.
: )

Anonymous said...

What a worthwhile trip. That is GREAT news, West. Hopefully this familial union sent your cousin off into manhood with sense and style!

Michael May said...

Great story, man. Thanks for sharing that.

My mom has always tried to impress on me that even if you don't think something is important to anyone, sometimes just showing up is an encouragement to someone, and I truly believe it. It's nice to hear reminders of that played out in real life.

Anonymous said...

For some reason I can't log in but I wanted to say...West that was awesome that you went. I know you gave good reasons not to go, but it's funny how we don't really know how much things like that really mean to people. At that age people don't do the best job of expressing themselves. It's funny my son is the same way. He will phrase something in such a way that will make me think it doesn't really matter if I do or don't only to find out that he'd actually be broken-hearted if I didn't do a particular thing. Kudos on the "merging" of the two "families" too. - Dominique

Liz Dwyer said...

You know how they say the eyes are the window to the soul? Well, this story is definite evidence that what shines through your picture is absolutely the truth. What a big heart you have. I'm so glad you did this, not just for your cousin and your aunt, but for you as well. It really is important and that young man will remember that for a long time. And your girl sounds like a keeper for rolling along! ;)

Miz JJ said...

That is so great that you made the time to go see your cousin graduate.

Anonymous said...

I should have read this two days ago before I blew off my aunt's barbecue when I found out none of my brothers were going. Time is often as valuable as $.

Mo said...

What an insightful piece, West. I am dealing with a somewhat similar situation with a wedding invitation and family that I have been estranged from for years. Because of you, I think I might attend.


West said...

Great commentary! Thanks, everyone.

And I hope things work out just as well for those of you who plan to (or would like to) seize future opportunities within your own circles of family and friends.