Of all the things I am grateful for in this season of Giving Thanks, this tops the list: the ways my family has taught and modeled openheartedness. Around my table on Thursday were me, my spouse of four years, our (but originally/mostly his) children, his parents, my mother and stepfather, and my stepmother. Unexpected, occasionally awkward, and ultimately beautiful.
Although my parents divorced when I was only eight, they shared such similar values, and it is evident in how my families have continued to love each other. My grandmothers became close friends well after the divorce, when both were finally widows—a friendship that somehow survived a custody dispute between my parents. My father was a pallbearer at my maternal grandmother’s funeral a full 14 years after my parent’s separation. Last spring (closing in on 40 years after the separation) an uncle on my dad’s side attended the celebration of life service for my mother’s sister; they adored each other their whole lives. He said to me, “Just because your parents divorced did not mean the rest of us did.”
I am so grateful to be able to continue this modeling of openheartedness for my three stepchildren. Yet I want them to understand that these things do not just happen. It is a choice that requires intention. Or rather, cultivating these rare and unexpected relationships requires an intention to make openhearted choices again and again. To do so is simple, but it is not easy. Forgiveness, patience, empathy, and a willingness to see the best in the other are all necessary. And for it to work, everyone has to make the effort.
This inheritance from my family is inherently valuable. Yet I also wonder how it could inform my work for justice in the world. How might these familial lessons about loving across wounding and division help me conceive my work as cultural healer? Where might these models of open-heartedness, of miraculously enduring tenderness take me if I am willing to follow their lead?
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