He chose to host the event in Sydney, as he’s a new arrival to Mitchells Island and most of his friends and colleagues are still city-based. Since Michael is almost like one of the family, the rest of the Shedders (Eve, Daniel, Rick and I) decided to drive to Sydney for the occasion. We would meet old friends, participate in the acknowledgements, and generally be part of the festivities.
When we walked in the door of the fabulous old pub where the party was heating up, we were greeted with a table of nametags, a few of them decorated with bright red stripes. Those were for Michael’s wife, his daughter, son, aunt and cousins…and us Shedders. I was represented on the nametags as a family member!
As I pinned on the nametag, I noticed my heart thumping a little. Suddenly Michael had gone from being “almost like one of the family” to…well, family. A big step.
Amidst finding the champagne and old friends, I continued to chew on this “family” challenge. I mentally cast Michael into the role of sibling. Let’s see: at three years older than me, he would be my big brother. He’d be the one who would have looked out for me, who’d protect me from the bullies at school, teach me how to play Monopoly and cricket, tease me unmercifully, get me to the school bus in the morning, pave the way to university, be in the bridal party at my wedding. Hmmmm.
Even though those things hadn’t actually happened, I found that Michael fit the role as if he were cast for it. Then I remembered back to my childhood, when, as an only child for my first eight years, I used to create imaginary siblings to fill up my life. I realised Michael is a dead ringer for one of those imaginary older brothers: intelligent, respected, handsome, passionate, lively, supportive. Like the make-believe one, this brother keeps an eye on me, helps out in times of trouble and lends an ear when I need one. For years now he’s been someone I almost take for granted – in a sisterly sort of way.
So here’s a miracle for you: it took about 60 years, but I manifested a big brother.
I’ve thought about that moment of insight all week. I’ve tried to resist it as a minor distinction, or as artificial or sentimental – but I’ve become convinced it’s none of those things. To the contrary, it has transformed my sense of family AND my sense of my fellow Shedders. I have often glibly used the word “family” about this community, but at that moment while I pinned on my nametag with its bright red stripes, I came to grips with a special privilege and a special responsibility.
I can see that I’m not very good at brothers and sisters. My own brother didn’t arrive in the family until I was over eight, by which time I was already somewhat set in my solitary, only-child ways. But I’ve always been jealous of people with a big family. My mother had seven brothers and sisters, and had lively, jostling, loving relationships with all of them. My close cousins have nine in their family. My husband had three sisters and my housemate Daniel eight siblings. I notice these things because I’ve been hungry for a big family all my life.
I’ve written a lot about friendship in these posts, but I can see that friendships aren’t quite the same as family-ships. Unlike friends, family members are there for life, for better or worse. You might say, “So-and-so used to be my friend” but you never say “So-and-so used to be my brother.” These people are place-holders in our lives forever.
As a consequence of this revelation, I find I’ve regarded my housemates slightly differently all week. It impacted me as Rick and I were packing up to leave for Canada for three months. My fellow Shedders will be there when I return – because they’re part of the family. They’ll swallow me back in – because I’m part of the family.
I tell this story because I think these bountiful, lively families are something that many of us are hungry for. And to my amazement I’ve discovered that they’re available. Big families are there for the taking, for the making. All you have to do is spend serious money together, work together for long hours (days, weeks, months) co-creating something, live together, and make decisions that will affect each other’s lives far into the future. Eventually you cross a line into a new breed of family. And on this side of that line is just plain MORE.