Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sunday Lunch

With the exception of Fausto, who is less than three years younger than me, I remember when each of my siblings arrived in my life. They were newborn. Nothing like the babies I had seen coo in Gerber commercials, cuddly, rosy and soft; but real ones, noisy, smelly, gurgly babies my father regarded with equal parts adoration, apprehension and delight.

Just as time came to bear on me, it came to bear on them. They saw the world through their own eyes; developed personal versions of incidents we experienced, made friends I’ve never met that greatly influenced their lives, fell in love, drew intimate conclusions of our parents values, declarations and beliefs. They went to college, became dexterous in subjects I am ignorant about. They made choices that defined them and, while I wasn’t looking, emerged as adults. It is my blood that courses through their veins. I catch startling snippets of me in the way they turn their head, in a speckle in the color of their eyes – and then I am gone, and what is left is a grown up that has been an inextricable part of my life but that, shockingly, I don’t know much about.

We are all thrashing in the riptide of two equal forces. One, centripetal, that we keep even from ourselves, which yearns for unity. Another, centrifugal, that is disillusioned and wants no part of it, this thing we call brother/sisterhood. We have not caught on that a brief episode that occurred during another’s formative years cannot be extrapolated into a broad judgment of character. And yet, clumsily, this is what siblings are destined to do.

I wonder if, like I have done, they have patched me together, assembled me with defective blocks constituted by their subjective memory of me and alleged attributes they overhear from my parents, and have constructed a jagged notion of a person who, in effect, doesn’t exist. I left home more than ten years ago. Do they assume they know me? The fact is, we are brothers, we are sisters, but we are strangers.

Who are these people? In a cosmic sense, are we randomly assigned to one another? Are we, despite it all, because of the same sacred genetic structure that binds us, more similar than we are different? If so, what is the exact composition of the miraculous helix that runs through all of us?

What would it take for us to get wise, to get past our assumptions, our faulty premises, to get over conclusions imposed by others, however unintentionally, to reassess well meaning labels affixed onto us by our parents, and arrive at who we really are? This is the treasure I would find at the end of the rainbow.

This past weekend I went to Mexico for a quick visit, and sat around the big square table at my father’s house, like we used to do every Sunday so many years ago. I am transfixed by these extraordinary, beloved strangers I call family.

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