We are Family

Back in the 1960s there was an amazing photo collection published called “The Family of Man.” I found a copy on my sister’s bookshelves and poured over the beauty of so much diversity in all those pictures. Edward Steichen had curated the collection back in the 1950s. It was a landmark in helping us see others worldwide as this one diverse family called human.

That book made a huge impression. I come from a family which is notable (according to the Sociology of Family professor who marked my term paper back in the day) for its diversity and fluidity of religious allegiance. By the 1980s, when I considered up to the cousins twice removed, we had a representatives for a multi-hued array of Christian sects, as well as every other world religion bar Hindu. A lot of that could be accounted for by intermarriage.

We ‘adopt’ people along life’s journey, just like the informal adoption of my great-aunt by a childless Jewish couple when that large immigrant family were on their uppers. She didn’t lose touch with her birth family and routinely visited with her sisters . She gained a larger and more diverse world – and family.

How we identify is an interesting phenomena. It’s why I get quizical looks when my mixed race nieces call me Aunty. People get addled trying to equate this Wonder Bread white face with these two beautiful brown young women. But it an an honor to be their aunty and a sign of their respect for their elders that their African family would surely approve.

Last night I was watching an old episode of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s PBS show “Finding Your Roots” which highlighted a remote settlement of mixed race people close to Phillippi, West Virginia. I had an aunt, uncle, and cousin who lived there. My paternal grandfather died there. My mother worked in the 1930s in the local hospital. Yet I had not known there was this hidden community who had banded together to duck the colour bar and racial politics that is part and parcel of America’s story. Family is truly a complicated mix that weaves a rich tapestry.

This Being Human

Is about making family,
which is much more complex
and sometimes more
problematic than
finding your tribe.

Stratch the genomes

and you'll find we are all
quite mixed, actually.
We talk to God
in differant tongues
while some stay
resolutely silent
during grace.

We come in all shades
of our skin, these beautiful
cells we shed every seven years.
And the colour of our eyes
vary, yet we still call each other
cousins. We have a common
ancestry as our glue.

All are welcome to
the Great Feast's table
where we will exchange
gifts with each other
in peace at winter tide.
We are all so differant.
yet in that moment
as we bow our heads
in grace, and to each other,
these humans  - this great family -

are all in one common space.

©  Bee Smith 2018

Featured image Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

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