I believe that the word “family” should not be limited to those who happen to have a biological or, in the case of adoptions, legal ties to another person. My family, those that are not biologically related to me, is a far-flung group. I have family in Virginia, Connecticut, Oregon and Utah, Colorado, Texas Shropshire, England, Lansing Michigan, and city in Turkey which I unfortunately cannot pronounce to save my life. The amazing thing about my family, at least to me, is that I did not know the majority of them until at least the beginning of last year, with the exception of those who live in Colorado Yet somehow in the course of one year these people have woven themselves and their lives into my heart and therefore have become part of my soul, some of the best parts I believe. To understand how my family came into being you have to understand a little bit about me and the events which have transpired over the past year. Due to a combination of health reasons and fallout from bureaucratic political bomb shells this past spring was my last semester at a traditional four year university and that was devastating, without my family, biological or not, I would not have weathered the storm, I can almost guarantee you that.
It should be stated that just like many families, not everyone in mine is on speaking terms with each other, and some are not likely to ever meet. What unites them as my family is that they love me for me, and do not expect me to be anyone but myself. The man, who has become something of a surrogate father figure to me at times when my own cannot be present, lives in Virginia. From him I have learned the value of having patience with myself and he was there for me when I came home at one in the morning screaming at the unfairness of a world in which a childhood friend could suddenly be faced with life altering illness, knowing that, like me, he would now be forever defined by the things he could no longer accomplish on his own, instead of being seen for the wonderful person he is In the conversation I remembered something that I was taught in kindergarten, it’s OK to be upset. I believe it is okay to cry.
The other half of his heart lives in Connecticut. To my eyes she lives her life with all the grace and steadiness that I hope to acquire some day for my own. This past Christmas I received a photo album that I later discovered took her over a month to put together. I believe that grace is more than a physical talent and beauty is soul deep.
My older sister lives in a small-town in Oregon. My brother-in-law Byron, who lives in Utah, calls her his Gypsy, and Gypsy she is. A free spirit who has seen far more than her calendar age would suggest she has never failed to make me laugh when I really need to. My sister carries with it in her the amazing ability to make things grow and thrive, be they plants or a person’s faltering self-esteem. I believe that sometimes the talents of nurturing plants and people are one and the same.
I love the man I consider my brother-in-law dearly. His demeanor reminds me of a quiet stream, sure and steady in its proposed course. A man of very careful words, his speech often takes on a lyrical quality, a fact which struck me with such force on first meeting him that I renamed him Byron and the name has stuck. Though I have yet to meet him there are a few things I know, do not irritate anybody he considers family, and do not come between a man and his Oreos! I believe that a person does not have to say a lot to be heard, let a person’s words be meaningful and people will quietly listen. Occasionally contentment is manufactured by Nabisco. I believe that too.
There are a few people in my life whose place in my life is less easily named. In saying this I do not mean to imply that these people are any less important to me, far from it. Indeed the places these people fill are unique to them and defy conventional definitions.
Perhaps I should have said from the beginning that I met my extended family over the Internet, specifically through a computer game. This virtual world allows the people in it to be almost anything their imagination can conjure up, it bestows physical grace o the clumsy and uncoordinated, function to those who are impaired, and literal wings to those who have always wished to fly. My Fairy Lady has wished from the time she was small to have wings now does initially that was the reason for the nickname but as time has passed more reasons that become apparent to me.
Fairies in the old stories dispensed much valued advice when asked and sometimes not. So it is with my friend. Sometimes without even knowing it she has helped me to find the answers to questions that up until that moment were half formed in my brain. I am what most people would consider book smart but I believe that on some level a person’s intelligence is based on what they are willing to learn from the experiences of others. Even though I am twenty four and a lot of things from my childhood no longer apply, I stand with J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan and Wendy and say without reservation, yes, I too believe in fairies.
I have noticed that in life if a person is very lucky they meet up with someone who they do not have to make space in their hearts for because it feels like that person has always been there, that in the best explanation of my relationship with the person who has become my Shadow Knight. At various points of my life I have felt very wary of other people and very scared of rejection. My solution to this problem from the time I was in fifth grade has been to surround myself with an air of calculated indifference, pleasant indifference most of the time but indifference nonetheless. If they wanted to pretend I didn’t exist I didn’t have to acknowledge them either. The truth was that it was meant to hide something much scarier.
Fast forward to just before I left school. I had fought depressions black undertow with varying degrees of success. Within six weeks I discovered that a friend, whose steadfast belief in me as a worthwhile person had seen me through high school, would now face some of the same things I dealt with, and there wasn’t a thing I could do. As if that weren’t enough my state healthcare decided that is was acceptable to ask me to discontinue my pursuit of a college degree because it was more cost effective for them. So I did the only thing I could think to do, I bought myself a shot of virtual whiskey (the university doesn’t permit alcohol on campus) and waited in the hopes that the quiet man I had befriended a few months prior would show up, sure enough he did. We sat and talked until 4:30 the next morning. Ok I talked, screamed, yelled, cried and swore he mostly listened. It feels like half a lifetime has passed since that day instead of a little more than half a year.
Since then I have come to know several things, sometimes losing at chess is more fun than winning even if you do lose WAY more often than you win. If you must abandon technology for four days or more TELL SOMEBODY! You never know how many people will worry. Sometimes even a poet as depressing as Poe can make a person smile with joy. Knives are more than mere utilitarian objects; in some cases they can be the cords that bind people together. I believe in tea over coffee any day, even if there is sugar in it. I believe in 4 a.m. conversations even if what makes them awkward is that they’re not awkward at all. I believe in parking lots and that hugs you have to travel 520 miles to get can last a lifetime. I believe in small pieces of amber and silver and the color blue. I believe that surgery scars affect more than just the people who bear them.
I believe in patient teachers who work as grease monkeys to pay the bills. I believe in making time for your friends no matter where in the world they live. I believe in remembering differences between American English and the Queen’s English, it can save a lot of embarrassment. I believe in tiny stuffed tigers on key chains, and that sometimes being a mouse is not a bad thing.
I believe in arguments about Jell-O and jelly and transplanted Texans. I believe in setting the clock on your computer to a time zone not your own. I believe in Tweety Bird.
I believe in poets who play football, and silently cheering for a team I’ve never met in a game I ever got the chance to see. I believe that teaching English is more than teaching grammar and vocabulary. I believe that everybody is capable of teaching even if they don’t have a degree. I believe that in helping a friend or two that I may never meet with their English I am in fact helping the world. Who’s to say that the assistance I am able to provide now will not come back full circle? Perhaps because of something I did a long time ago they will be able to help someone else, and maybe, just maybe I will see one of the ripples from my efforts.
Most of all I believe in telling people when they make a difference, which is what led to writing this thing. It was never supposed to be this long, but some of the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten was to “write until it’s finished” so I have been. When I was 14 another friend advised me “a piece of writing is never truly finished”. I didn’t believe him then but now I do. I’m sure the people I forgot to mention but I’m not too worried and this will most likely not be the only piece that I write for this particular purpose. Hopefully the next one does not end up resembling a college paper, but if it does so be it, I will continue until it is finished.