Whilst in Mauritius I spent a lot of time with one of my cousins and his adorable kids (pictured, do you see a likeness?). He’s the eldest cousin and I’m the youngest. Despite the differences in age and circumstance there is a lot the two of us share beside our grandparents; a sympathetic disposition, a tendency to laugh off serious statements, a keen interest in how our families have shaped us.
My eldest cousin spoke touchingly of his dream; to have the four of us cousins, our four collective children and our one remaining parent (mine) all together in a room. To just be together like that. He spoke so wistfully it made my heart ache. I have many friends who see their entire families every Christmas, every wedding, every funeral. I’ve met my cousins only a handful of times through my life, divided as we are by continents and expensive flight routes. I wish I were of more use to them, lame as I am with my poor grasp of language; my alien career choice; my bizarre hometown; my youth and naivety; my sincere unknowing of life.
My eldest cousin noted the similarities between all of us cousins. We are all independent, almost to the point of being loners. We are all sensitive listeners who try and help everyone out, but none of us are any good at asking for or accepting help of our own. We are actually terrible at accepting help: quick to retreat, happy to analyse our problems in solitude. We don’t like letting people in. We are all pretty laid-back about the trials of day to day life, saving ourselves for the bigger dramas. The kind of dramas that brew up over a lifetime because nobody knew what to do. The kind of crisis that can cause the rest of the family to dash across the globe and throw their best of intentions at; well-meaning but rashly executed.
I don’t really know what the role of family is. People to teach you, to support you, people who know you best, people who cared about you unconditionally? These aren’t really things I associate with my family. My local family is just me and my parents; three people with a backlog of misunderstandings and confusing geography. With the rest of my family, I know we are all similar people but we’re just too far away – and there’s not enough to go on, not enough to be getting on with.
The attributes of family are instead are the things I associate with my friends. It’s my friends who lift me up, it’s my friends who enlighten me, it’s my friends who support me. Why is that? Is it the age I am and the society I live in? Is it because I see my family so little? Is it because my family and I share the same flaws and therefore cannot look after each other properly? The same cracks in alternate mirrors, the same blots on our differing landscapes. It’s difficult to say.