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Bits & Pieces: Re-learning the family reunion

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

I swear, yesterday I saw summer poking its head around the corner. That means our summer weekends are filling up fast. First stop: family reunion. Whooee, do I have mixed feelings on going over to Delta County for a weekend of mingling with a bunch of characters on my husband’s side of the family. Not to mention, there is always the wary navigation of the hodgepodge potluck food. Can someone out there please tell this Mexicana what exactly is a Jello salad?

But truthfully, underneath this mild anxiety is knowing my interracial family of four is the outlier.  We’re the only people there, besides my sister-in-law, who cared to mask up through this pandemic and the only ones who would rather wipe our culatas with the MAGA hat than wear one on our heads. I’ve already been having imagined conversations I don’t want to have and I’ve been scheming up ways to politely bow out of the event if great-grandma won’t stop rambling on about her beloved cat, but especially if a rowdy cousin wants to bring politics into the conversation. 

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As much as I feel this event is a source of stress, I’m going to do what I wish more Americans would do. For starters, I’m going to grow the heck up, stop seeing these people, our family, as a threat. So many of us, me included, can often become intolerant to people who have different political opinions. We have lost the ability to respectfully and calmly consider someone else’s point of view. The “cancel culture” kicks in, we shut off, listen less or not at all, become more emotional and less rational and thus miss out on important connections and an opportunity to grow.

After a long year of being disconnected from the world, a year where most people primarily communicated via zoom or text, I think it is time we make a better effort to reconnect, to have more family dinners without the phones and the TV. I even think we need to have more mildly heated conversations with people who are different from us so we can learn to see different perspectives. These types of moderately uncomfortable discussions, if they are kept mature and civil, are a chance to grow empathy and allow for connection, something we humans desperately need for our mental and emotional well-being. Our brains need face-to-face social connectedness as much as they need oxygen.

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We forget that for 99.9% of the last 250,000 years, humans lived in tight multi-family and multi-generational groups. It’s only been in the last few decades that technology has exploded and our very sophisticated, modern world has left many people isolated. We live removed from our extended families and we never really get to know our neighbors. I think many try to solve these feelings of isolation by “friending” people on social media. Of course our brain knows those four hundred friends on Facebook are not a substitute for real connections, so we are left with an epidemic of loneliness and depression. 

In short, our modern lives give us few chances for deeply meaningful, multifamily and multi-generational interactions, so this reunion is precisely that opportunity. While I’m there, I’m going to put my phone and my discomfort aside. I’ll stop having imagined heated arguments in my head and I’ll try to not get caught up in my own rigid point of view, only to miss out on a chance to connect and grow. I’ll take a side dish. I’ll even listen to G.G. ‘s stories about precious Scotty the Cat. I’ll make sure to ask many questions to get to know these people better. I’ll play a game of horseshoes then I’ll share a Cuba Libre with Papa Dennis. I’m happy to do all that. But, there is one thing I won’t ever do. There’s no way I will touch Aunt Clara’s lime Jello, tuna salad. We all have to draw the line somewhere.

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Tags: #COVID #family #peace
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