Last week I attended my niece’s graduation at Colorado State University. Melannie (yes, she was named after me) received her PhD in ecology. I flew out there with my sister (Mary Ann), a niece (Lori), a nephew (John), and a grandnephew (Aaron) to celebrate this wonderful achievement.
For four full days I hung out with six relatives—including Melannie’s husband, Mike. We ate together, rode in a mini-van together, attended the graduation ceremony together, partied together, slept in close quarters together, shared two bathrooms together, and spent all day Saturday in Rocky Mountain National Park together. Living for four days in such close proximity with six relatives (from three generations!) caused me to reflect on relatives in general.
I thought: we don’t get to choose our relatives. We don’t get to pick our parents, for example. They were given to us. And our parents didn’t get to pick us either. We were given to them. When a couple has a child of their own, they are really welcoming a little “stranger” into their midst just as surely as when a couple adopts a child. There are no guarantees what kind of a child parents will end up with. Amazingly, most parents end up cherishing whomever they get.
We don’t get to choose our other relatives either like our grandparents, siblings, in-laws, grandchildren, cousins, aunts and uncles. The only relative we get to choose is our spouse. We get to choose our friends too, but not our relatives. You can almost say, relatives are the people you’re stuck with!
The truth is, though, many aspects of life we’re “stuck with.” We are born with certain physical traits–for better or for worse. The circumstances of our personal history are largely givens: the country we happen to be born in, the education we do or do not receive, the people we happen to meet, the opportunities we were given or denied, the religion we were handed down or were not handed down. It seems to me that the main choice we have in life is this: what we choose to do with all the things we didn’t choose.
Our culture tells us that we can be whatever we want to be. It glorifies freedom of choice. Yet we all must work within our givens. Though these givens can seem to impede our choices at times, they also can direct or channel our choices. Scott Hamilton, the Olympic figure skater, was too small to participate in most sports, so he chose to become an ice-skater instead and went on to entertain and inspire millions of people.
Back to our relatives. None of us has the perfect family. By accepting our relatives—with their gifts, quirks, and even shortcomings—we learn to accept other imperfect but lovable people in our life. And by investing time and attention on our family members, we can be enriched in ways we never imagined: We can be doted on by a grandparent, encouraged by a parent, supported by a sibling, entertained by a grandchild, befriended by a cousin, and edified by a beautiful niece who gets her PhD in ecology in Colorado!
The “serenity prayer,” written by Reinhold Niebuhr and often used by members of Alcoholics Anonymous, says it well: “God grant me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change (like my relatives!), the courage to change those things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Have any of your relatives been a blessing for you?
What are some other “givens” in your life that have channeled your choices?