Saturday, 12 October 2013

Family and the unexpected elements of love

Our read last month for book group was The Unexpected Elements of Love by Kate Legge and one of the things that was overwhelming about it in a sense was the number of issues that were covered or touched on in such a short read. It was a pretty good snapshot of family life in some ways. Aging, invisibility, dementia, ADD and ADHD, infertility, loyalty, friendship, sibling relationships, denial, dependency, parent - child relationships, responsibility to family, death and celebration of life; they are all issues or situations that occur in families, either singly or in confusing multiplicity!

It was interesting to think on that when some members of my own family joined for morning tea yesterday. There we sat; my mother, my father, my aunt, my cousin, my new partner in crime and myself. Stories were shared with enthusiasm as we all got to know each other, either for the first time or again after time apart. I see my parents often, but my cousin lives far away and I'd not seen her for over a year, and my aunt lives on the other side of the world so it has been some years since I last saw her. It was so lovely to see mum with her little sister. They are both in their 70s now but giggle and huddle together over whisperings just as if they are two naughty children; it's delightful to see. The children within remain alive and well.  There are subtle jealousies around the table as we all deal with being human...wondering if we are loved enough. Stories meander and segue happily from one to another. My new partner shares some new stories that reflect the similarities in his own family. 

Both of our families are from the United Kingdom. Both emigrated to Australia in the 1960s. We share a lot in common because of those roots. It's interesting to share our stories because we have an understanding of how people are who have come from that place; those places. We are both grateful that our parents came to Australia and learned to love the place and make it home. We both have stories of aunts and uncles and cousins. His family is bigger and wider and deeper in some ways perhaps because of his mother's European heritage - there is more 'culture' evident in the stories. I have often felt that there has been little cultural heritage in my own family, although I'm sure it must be there and perhaps I would be able to see it more clearly if I'd been back to the 'homeland' and felt what it was like to be there. He can remember what England was like; he was older when the move to Australia was made. They travelled by ship; my family came by plane. My family's transition was fast and furious; he has memories of a long and languorous sea voyage to prepare the family for a new life in a new country. I've seen old photos of my children's Australian grandparents and great-grandparents, in particular those taken by a great grandfather on a sea voyage from the UK early last century. There are pictures of pyramids and camels and all sorts of wonders as they travelled through the Suez Canal. Marvellous old black and white prints - tiny and faded by age, edges worn a little although they are respectfully held in what was probably quite an expensive album back in the day; thick black paper pages. Beautiful to regard in this modern age of the digital snap. How much more wondrous and awe inspiring it is to turn those old pages than to look at someone's Iphone!

It was interesting to hear from my aunt that she and Mum are amazed at the number of parallels in their lives. I guess we all have those lines of similarity when we sit and share stories. They allow us to bond in our human experience. They allow us to feel heard. It's important to sit and share stories and to listen. When we are younger we often don't have time to listen. I was really chuffed recently when, chatting with my young niece, she told me how much she enjoys Papa's stories. She shared that he always says some parts of his stories in the same way - using the same voice each time to make her laugh. He is a great storyteller and has so many tales to regale us all with. He forgets that he has told the stories before and tells them each time like it is the first time. I have been meaning to record them and publish them for him sometime. I'd like to honour his stories.  For him and for the kids that now don't have much time to sit and listen. I was thinking the other day about how sad I am that my grandmothers had both passed away when I was still quite young. I didn't have time to listen to them really. I was more interested in telling them things about me and my life. I was too young to appreciate their wisdom.  I wish they were here now because they would be able to share with me such a different world. I wonder what it was like being them when they were little girls. I wish someone had recorded their stories for me. Perhaps I can do something precious for the next generation if I can make time now to record what is known. I'm sure I'd enjoy it. Perhaps that should be motivation enough. 

My family history is pretty scant really. Vague snippets of grandparents and great grandparents enter conversations now and then but there is nothing solid to pass on in the way that cultures with a strong storytelling culture have; those that rely on words alone to pass on history. When stories are being told I sometimes find myself zoning out. There is so much to do and to be thinking about. It takes effort to remain present and to internalise stories. That can't really happen when the tv is going or I'm pounding on the computer keyboard. I need to stop and focus more while there are still stories to be had.

 At a far too infrequent family gathering to honour Dad's birthday recently, my brother and father were sharing stories about me. I didn't remember some of the things they were saying but they were adamant. I didn't think about it a lot but later it was pointed out to me that it was a way of showing their love for me. Wow! That made me cry...I'm crying again now (where did that come from??). What a gem. I would never have seen that if I hadn't been shown. Their stories are a way to show their love. For me and for each other. When I tell stories about them it is also a revelation of my love. Even if we share stories of rogues and ratbags in our families, are we not in some ways proud to know them. Do we not love their humanity even if they have done dreadful things? Do we not love them knowing that none of us are perfect? We do. We all adore a 'lovable rogue' or a 'rough diamond', and even better if we know them!

We share stories either readily or reticently depending on how well we know and trust others. We share different stories depending on who we are speaking with. To share a story with another is not just to honour the story but also the person who is listening. It says to them "You are worthy of my story. You are worthy to hear about my life, my loves, my loss, my brokenness, my joy, my lessons in life." 

A good listener is blessed. They hear not just the words of the story but the heart behind them. They are trusted to hold the story and to treat it well. It is a gift to them. A good listener blesses the storyteller. The good listener says through his actions, "Your story is worthy. I am willing to honour your story by being here to give value by listening. I hear your heart."  I am writing this because I want to remember these new understandings. They are a gift. Sometimes an observer can see what we ourselves cannot. I don't know how much longer I have to gather stories for a family history. I have my parents and my aunt here to milk for their memories. I shouldn't let this chance go by. If I remember that I am loved then listening should be easy.



  1. AT senior citizen's computer class trying to learn how to reply to your blog.

  2. Hi Laurel...congrats on cracking the code, haha! Look forward to reading you soon. Lots of love xox