March 22, 2004

Friends are not the family you can choose. The inability to choose, within a context of personal growth from dependence to independence, is inherent to the concept of family.

We find those who at some point in our lives have something in common with us, and we name them friends. The greater the commonality of understanding, the greater the mutual friendship. But when the point of commonality ends, be it in a screaming rage of utter frustration or through increasingly different interests, friends go apart. In these days of frequent relocation, rare indeed is the friendship which survives a lifetime. Even the closest friends can sometimes be completely forgotten until the in memoriam graduating class updates.

It is inherent to the nature of family that it be what one was born or adopted into or within which one has been brought up as far back as our earliest memories, not what one selects by choice. Family is the first school of social interaction we enter, and it is the one school we never completely leave. It is the first environment to shape our personalities: each parent, each guardian, each sibling, each cousin and aunt and uncle differently. At first, each expects to see another family member in the child. It can sometimes come as a shock within the family that its members are not the only such influence -- or perhaps not even the primary one. The moment of realisation when the child does something completely different from what was expected, the understanding that the child is not simply an extension of the adult, almost cannot be but a shock. In the process of teaching the child its first steps in the greater world, families very rarely realise precisely what it is that has really been learned by the child.

Perhaps most parents resist, to a greater or lesser extent, the awareness that their children are becoming independent of them (perhaps especially those parents who never themselves truly grew into adulthood). Perhaps most siblings at first resist changes in the structure of the existing social hierarchy as one or another develops new relationships and new priorities within the world outside the family. In the process of growing into independence, our own personalities may conform -- or learn to conform -- to that environment, or they may clash from the start, or they may even grow into an entirely new way which nevertheless partakes of what has gone before. What develops and blossoms may even be more or less what the other members of the family eventually learn to see, and with whom all eventually manage to hash out a relationship on an adult basis. Or -- what is perceived might seem to bear no resemblance to what an outside observer might notice. Or -- known or unknown to either the child or to various members of the family, how the child is seen by the various members of that family may have some -- but not complete -- basis in actuality. Children grow and change, or grow and become more themselves: but the family within which they grow into adulthood will frequently find it difficult (and sometimes impossible) not to be blinkered by memory.

Family is the first society of the child, and society has never been an external thing. While the child lives, the family lives. Children will choose their own lives, but it is within the power of family to choose the foundation upon which those lives can be built. Memories built together may be the only true thing which can be given, upon which all else is rooted. Even if the child chooses to turn its back on upbringing and never to think of such again, memories remain. Even when mind and memory are stolen by disease, what went before lives and remains alive and can even sometimes thrive within the child. Even when the clash of personalities within the family is such as to approach or cross the line of violence, even if ways part: family is not -- cannot be -- forgotten.

The memories the child carries forward in life can be among the greatest of gifts possible to give that child: count a single wonderful day of companionship, eating ice cream, and talking about nothing at all.

Memories can also be among the heaviest of burdens: count the parent who sees only the undesired differences from themself; or who has made an unhappy memory of their own into a perpetual, inescapable "now" to be inflicted upon all within their environment and which cannot but blind from all else.

What memories are we creating for others?

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