Like many families, we have a summer vacation ritual. For a week, we squeeze into a too small shore house. 20+ people come and go. We eat too much, never get enough sleep, read books, deal with the occasional crisis, argue, laugh and catch up on each other’s lives. Our gathering started over 30 years ago and though the ages and ménage may change, the spirit of noisy shared togetherness is better each year.
Family events take different forms. Families gather at holidays, on vacation, at the shore, in parks, in homes, in hotels, in summer and winter. For families such occasions are part of their collective soul. These gatherings define who we are, how we communicate and for many, the paths their lives will take.
It occurs to me that families have medical benefit. They are part of the foundation of how we keep ourselves physically and mentally healthy. Through mutual support, we make our kinfolk stronger. Through life’s flux, the bedrock is family. Though I have never seen it published, I suspect this deeply rooted team may be one of the keys to a long life.
For children families teach security and safety. Young people learn good habits, whether dietary, social or physical. They learn to laugh and share. Children are taught how to cope and handle stress. They learn each family’s basic intellectual and spiritual values. Children learn concepts of team and togetherness. Families teach children an image of the greater world.
For adults families are a touchstone to reality. When life sets us back, families lend us an ear and reassure us of our value. Families put the chaos of work and life’s battles into perspective. When we fail, our families love us and give us a secure place to find ourselves. When we are sick, families are our caregivers, nursing us back onto life’s path, or being with us during dark hours.
Families are the collective memory of who we are. When our head is full of hubris, it is family that reminds us of the day when our hair was full of peanut butter. When we are weak and start to slip from whom we are, family reminds us of that graduation or achievement. When memory of grandma or cousin fades, family refreshes color and detail. Family knows that the past helps define the future.
It is a tremendous amount of work to hold together a family. Nonetheless, family is like working out in the gym, quitting smoking, watching our diet, studying at school or preventative medicine. These actions are good for us. Building family is good for our minds and bodies. The sweat and sacrifice, the laughter and tears, the hard days and sleepless nights, make our family connections strong. When we do, we make ourselves stronger, healthier and happier.