I'm going to be brutally honest in this blog, perhaps to a fault (I'm sure you never expected that from a Drissman), and I'm pretty sure that my family is not unique in the way I express below. But I have come to a realization lately. No -- not just a realization; something bigger, but let me start from the beginning.
Not everyone in my family agrees on politics (that's an understatement) and there have been times when it has created a little strife between cousins and family members. There have also been times that some family members have judged other family members and decided that they weren't someone with whom they wanted to associate.
Perhaps it's just me as a middle child/mediator, but I have found that I am able to look past people's politics (most of the time) and/or certain life choices and see them for what type of person they actually are.
One of the things my mom taught me is that family is important. She kept telling us that we only have four siblings in this entire world of billions, so even if we're angry with them, even if they are intentionally driving us absolutely batty, getting us into trouble, or pushing us away, we need to remember that they share our blood -- whether we want them to or not. It's a hard lesson to really absorb when you're fighting with your brother over the stupidest thing, but if it gets repeated enough times over the course of years, it finally sinks in.
In 1991, when my dad's family escaped from Russia (after the Iron Curtain came down), my mom and dad immediately flew us all (five kids ages 5-15) to Israel to meet them. Why? Because family is important. And the next year, my mom and dad moved mountains (and fought with the US government) to make sure that our second cousins, Misha and Dima, spent the summer with us in the United States. And several years after that, they made sure my second cousins, Anatasia and Dina, spent the summer with us here as well. Why? Because family is important.
We made an attempt years ago to start a Drissman family newsletter so that everyone could keep updated with all the extended cousins. It didn't quite take off, but I'll be trying again. I think it'll work this time around, being that we are all the next generation, familiar with the internet, and in our 30s and 40s with families of our own. We'll have things to share: photos of cute kids, stories of us watching them rip apart the house and playing with toys, learning interesting words, and making ridiculous faces.
My mom encouraged me to keep in touch with my first cousins on her side. Just because her family had some issues didn't mean that it should continue to the next generation. In fact, she didn't want it to continue; there was no reason for it to continue. It bothered her that she and her siblings weren't closer, and she'd be damned if she'd allow the same thing to happen to us. She insisted that my cousins and I never did anything wrong and shouldn't grow up without knowing each other, so I'm working on rectifying that.
So it started with my wedding.
I decided that no one's politics would get in the way of me getting closer to family, and, unless you broke laws, your lifestyle choice wasn't going to get in the way either. Thus I began really putting forth additional effort to get close to my cousins... of ALL generations.
After my mother passed away last month, more relatives got in touch with me. I became the "point-person" for my immediate family and have done what I can to pass on all the information. I have taken time each week to return emails, send photos, ask for photos, and keep updated. I feel remiss in my duties when I don't.
After my little brother's father-in-law passed away (three weeks after my mother), even more family and friends came forth to make sure that my brother and his wife, my family, and I were holding steady.
September 11th was a tough day for all Americans, but it reminds me of my cousin's loss (his father died) and it's been tough.
I've used all these as leverage to catapult myself into family unity. Before, I could only sympathize with other's heavy losses (we have had significant losses, but nothing so harsh as losing my mother) - now I have empathy. It makes me realize JUST how important family is and how tightly you have to hold onto them... EVEN WHEN YOU DON'T AGREE WITH THEM (or might not even like them).
[If it helps, think of it this way... You can always learn from someone, whether it's if you want to be like them or NOT be like them.]
I believe my mom realized that in the past year. Specifically, she and a particular cousin of mine were polar opposites politically and it got to the point where she felt she had to un-friend him on Facebook. Why? Because family was more important than politics. The political disagreements were getting in the way of her relationship with him and the politics simply weren't worth losing him as a cousin.
When my relatives are having a hard time, I send them a note on their Facebook wall, a text, a private message, an email to let them know that I'm thinking of them and sending my love (I'm not quite up to phone calls yet). I let them know that they are not alone in their difficulty, in their grief, or in their bad day. Because sometimes just knowing that someone is thinking of you really makes the difference in your mood (and sometimes it doesn't... but maybe it makes the next day better).
I don't always agree with my cousins. Some have wildly different political opinions that are wrong (sorry, had to stick that one in there); some are intermarried; some aren't Jewish at all. Do I wish that they married Jewish? Sure. I have opinions; who doesn't? But the real question is...
Will it make a difference in how I view them? Will it change how I treat my cousins and family?
They are my Family, by blood or marriage. They are the only cousins and relatives I have in this world and their differences make my family and life interesting. I know that they are people that add to my community and world, whether it's in a way I can appreciate or not. Each relative adds to my life in their own way and I would miss their addition if they weren't there.
I learn from each relative; I thrive on their stories and photos and hobbies. I make it through each day because they reciprocate the care and love, even if we don't speak regularly.
I force cousins to write longer emails to me; I try and email cousins with updates -- even to those cousins who aren't as open and friendly (because I've found that they really do like hearing from me). I learn about hobbies of relatives so that I can share in their joy and passion, and you know what? It makes me a more knowledgable, well-rounded person too.
In the end, almost all of the billions of people who live on this planet will not care who you were or what you did. But your family will. They will remember your stories, your photos, your hobbies, and your quirks. They will love you despite your faults, hiccoughs, and wrong choices. They will value who you were and what you did.
So hold them close. Value them. Call them or write a note.
Why? Because family is important.
And they are YOURS.