Wednesday, February 12, 2014

TC Blog Project: Family

This time of year, we start to hear a lot of talk about love.  And love in February is almost never referenced as the love between friends, the love of family, or even *gasp* a love for things.  No, our entire culture frames Valentine's Day - a celebration of love - as celebrating only romantic love.  Those who don't have romantic partners are said to be "alone on Valentine's", whether they will actually be physically alone or not.

I'd rather talk today about one of my favorite aspects of Heathenry: familial love.  For a long time, I considered myself the 'odd duck out' in many Heathen circles, being generally the most leftist of the US-politics liberals.  It's taken awhile, but I've come to realize that perhaps I found Heathenry because some part of me understood that, deep down, I actually hold a few traditional values.  One of the most important of these values, to me, is the importance of family.

Growing up, my immediate family was sort of the odd one in the extended family.  We were poor in a family full of middle-class, my mother was too Evangelical and my father too atheist, us kids were socially-awkward brainiacs and always wanted to play with the wrong genders.  And yet, despite the unspoken uncomfortableness surrounding those topics, the entire family was always warm and welcoming.  We were weird, but it didn't ultimately matter, because we were family.  There weren't any family feuds or in-fighting; we all got together on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter and made generally pleasant dinner conversation with each other.

Growing up, I didn't exactly appreciate how rare and precious a family like this is.  When I went to college, I basically cut all ties with everyone - I didn't speak to even my parents for about a year.  It wasn't until I found myself pregnant, faced with beginning my own family, that I began to appreciate just how amazing a good family can be.  The biggest recent influence on my concept of family has been my mother-in-law; she comes from a very traditional culture where it is a woman's duty to care for her house and her family.  She welcomed me with open arms, took me in as her daughter, claimed me as part of her family.  She cares for her elderly mother together with her three local sisters, all of whom work full-time, because it is her duty to love and honor her mother the way her mother loved and raised her.  I have watched her pour out her heart into the food she makes for our family dinner every Sunday; all of her love and good wishes and affection goes directly into the meal.  She holds the most love for family of anyone I've ever known - and though I aspire to be like her in caring for my own family, I must admit that I seldom hit the mark.

I'd like to be clear that by valuing family, I am not referencing only a traditional nuclear family.  That's how mine worked out, but it's certainly not the be-all, end-all.  I spent a large part of my life with my mother and step-father on one hand, and a single father on the other, and we were just as much family as anyone else.  Same goes for gay, poly, or whatever relationships - if you think of yourself as a family, you are.  This is a special kind of love, and no matter how some conservatives would like to play it, it is there for everyone to experience.

I try to give my children the good things I had growing up, while skipping over the worse ones.  We eat dinner together every night, no TV or other interruptions, and talk about our days.  I make it a point to talk to my kids in the car when we're driving somewhere.  I plan family celebrations - not just for my own holidays; I throw a darn good party for Eid twice a year too!  Just as my mother and grandmother did growing up, I tell stories of the ancestors I remember, and those that are still with us but who we don't have the opportunity to visit.  These are all religious acts for me.  The simple act of loving my family - and expressing that love by caring for them, cooking for them, making sure their lives are organized and also enriching - is a big part of my religious devotion.  In Heathenry, your family's honor is incredibly important - it is simultaneously your legacy and your gift to your ancestors.  Caring for my children, loving them, and teaching them the ways of my ancestors is an offering to those who have gone before.  It is also an offering to those I will leave behind.

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