Mesmerized by this quote above hanging from a scroll at the Land of the Medicine Buddha temple bookstore a few weeks back, I repeat it on the drive back home from Soquel, to my friend Ruby. I'm spouting off about my renewed interest in social media (which frankly dropped to below zero since the tsunami) and intimacy and neighborhoods and third places and...
(For me it would be disingenuous to say I care about social capital, social networking, social software, social media and not even know my neighbor's first name or hang out the neighborhood cafe. If you say the point is people then one walks the walks not just talks the talks.)
...and she stops me: "So how's your relationship with your family?"
With Ruby's question, the thought ecplised me instantly that for me it would be disingenuous to care about social capital, social networking, social software, social media and be distant from my own family: all of it ripples in concentric circles from the inside out.
"No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?" - Lee Iacocca
Many days, especially those frustrating ones, I could dismiss family as simply people in my life by virtue of the accident of birth. Though I'm not even so sure about that accident theory anymore.
In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle points out that spiritual teacher Ram Dass has humorously observed: If you think you're enlightened, spend some time with your family of origin. Accident or no, they are definitely in my life and finally I've got to the point where I take responsibility for everything that shows up my life.
"The ones that last are the ones where there’s at least one in-person interaction. People you’ve had a meal with, whose house you’ve slept in are the ones you can build that relationship with." - Shannon Clark on relationships in online communities, "Is there intimacy in social media?", Web 2.2 conference notes
Since I've had at least 22 years of meals and sleepovers with my family of origin, I guess we might have something to build on. So why the heck in this Sex in the City age is it easier to share body (and maybe soul) with a complete stranger than to have a heartful conversation with someone that's known you for decades?
Those breezy SITC hook-ups aren't exactly my style, yet this remarkable year I've have heart-to-heart encounters ranging from passing windows-into-the-soul gazes to hours-long tete-a-tetes in cafes and bookstores and galleries and antiques shops and bank teller windows and trains on average of once a day with complete strangers of all ages and all walks of life.
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or wake at night alone -- Walt Whitman, from To A Stranger
Family, well, maybe it's that there is more history - to cherish, and to bury, to unburden - than with fresh momentary shooting stars.
Perfect strangers. Less-than-perfect family:
'Let us agree to give up love,
And root up the Infernal Grove;
Then shall we return and see
The worlds of happy Eternity.
'And throughout all Eternity
I forgive you, you forgive me.
As our dear Redeemer said:
"This the Wine, and this the Bread."'
-- William Blake, from Broken Love
At the eleventh hour, I found myself heading to Craigslist to rely on a complete stranger to catch a ride down to LA to see family this past Wednesday. (Thanks Ravi and Andy for replying...)
"Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city." - George Burns
Fleeing from Cuba after Castro's takeover, my young parents arrive penniless and English-illiterate to a strange land with people they didn't grow up with and play ball with and go to dances with and giggle about secret admirers with and stroll the park on Sundays with. They drilled it into my head growing up, "Don't talk to strangers." By which they meant anyone outside the inner circle of family is to remain forevermore a stranger.
Over the decades I turn my over-protective upbringing comes full circle and I find myself implicitly trusting complete strangers... and I don't talk to family.
At 9 a.m. Thanksgiving Thursday the Craigslist 'strangers' thing is falling through completely. I meditate, I pray and I silently query myself, "Are you absolutely sure you're supposed to be in LA?" One minute after I picture it, and felt yes, my cell phone rings: "I'm online booking this flight for you," my sister says, "Can you make an 11:10 flight?"
Grabbing a pumpkin spice latte at the San Jose Airport, I notice it's imprinted with Starbucks yuletide wisdom:
"Lost mittens return, cab rides are shared and for a few short weeks crowds endear perfect strangers who exchange warm greetings in lieu of a passing nod."
Our landing in Burbank tarmac is a jolting bounce. A Southwest flight attendent immediately comes on air, "Whoa, did you feel that!?"
The cabin breaks out in spontaneous laughter at the lightheartedness easing the not-a-perfect landing.
And for the first time ever, I glimpse endearing the not-a-perfect family can be handled in just so light-hearted a manner too...
A grace-filled happy Thanksgiving holiday weekend to my American readers!
Bonus 1: I recently wrote someone: "My path is one of letting go, and as Adya says, then letting go of letting go, of surrender to Love, of complete enchantment and innocent wonder of the Mystery unfolding. Since the Infinite flows into and out of every single thing and person seemingly "out there" every person is an opportunity to explore, taste, discover, be intrigued, enjoy aspects of our own inpenetratable Mystery of Self.
Bonus 2: The starting quote is from...
"THE PARADOX OF OUR AGE: We have bigger houses but smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; more knowledge, but less judgement; more experts, but more problems; more medicines, but less healthiness; We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. We build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication; We have become long on quantity, but short on quality. These are times of fast foods but slow digestion; Tall man but short character; Steep profits but shallow relationships. It's a time when there is much in the window, but nothing in the room." - His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
images Flickr photo by vshioshvili