I am one for whom the word “family” is complex… bruised, like a knee or banana or ego.
To speak of the concept of “family” in the technical or traditional understanding of the term is, to me, to speak of a granfaloon; a group of people who imagine they share a connection that, in actuality, holds little or no real significance. Ties to someone based solely on blood feels like this to me… grossly overstated; too compulsory; too arbitrary— obligatory to the point of inciting childish resistance (I am, if nothing else, the obstinate, stubborn consequence of being raised an only child). In my mind—and my mother would, and has, pushed back against this— sharing genetic, what, fluids or flesh, with another human does not automatically require loyalty or assign shared stewardship.
Things break when you force them.
And anyway, what of the people we choose and keep of our own damn will? To whom we are bound to by nothing but love? With whom we share cosmic or spiritual connection? Whose existence alone helps us to better navigate our own lives? Who we show up for tirelessly, without expectation of accolades or reciprocation?
For me, family is the company I keep, but no, that’s not it, family is cultivated through continual proofs of patience and compassion, but no, not that either, family is about holding each other accountable, but no, not that either, family is being vulnerable and supporting one another and showing up, not quite it…family is loving someone fiercely for who they are right now, not who you think they should be one day.
Well, no. That won’t do.
Let me try that again.
And, because I’m struggling to define exactly what I mean, I’ll crib Kahlo for this attempt, okay?
You deserve family that doesn’t mind you disheveled, with everything and all the reasons that wake you up in a panic and the anxieties that won’t let you sleep.
You deserve family that makes you feel safe, whose members can disarm the world whole with their presence.
You deserve family that appreciates the beauty of who you are, that recognizes and acknowledges the courage it took to be where you are right now.
You deserve family that listens when you speak, that shows up for you when you feel scared and respects your freedom; family whose members fight alongside you, who acknowledge and support you when you’re being brave.
You deserve family that hushes the bullshit and inspires in you a sense of gratitude, grace, and belonging.
You deserve that.
You do. I do. We do.
We all deserve family built thoughtfully; critically and intimately connected.
And maybe “family” isn’t the right word.
Kurt Vonnegut’s word for what I’m trying to say is “karass”
Or, as far as I can figure, this is the closest word whose definition encompasses the meaning I need to describe the sheer weight of importance these people have in my life.
About my karass, then.
Or, rather: about the karass to which I belong.
About a decade ago I began investing a lot of energy into surrounding myself with people to whom I felt strangely drawn. Maybe I thought that their creativity or uniqueness would extend to me somehow through social osmosis or kissing or holding hands or sharing stories or… Who knows. Old journal entries describe this budding community as various animal groupings (a pride, a richness, an exaltation, a mustering) as if I’ve known all along that the word “family” wasn’t enough. Our relationships, over time, seem to have adopted animal strength, too. It is our consistent and increasing kindle of intimacies and loyalties make us the karass we are.
“…oak trees don’t set an intention to listen to each other better, or agree to hold tight to each other when the next storm comes. under the earth always they reach for each other, they grow such that their roots are intertwined & create a system of strength which is as resilient on a sunny day as it is in a hurricane.”
– adrienne marre brown
I’ve galumphed through the last 5 months with a sort of mimsy and embittered despondence usually reserved for times in my life in which I’ve endured great strings of loss or some other such seemingly endless piling-on of umbles and whelms. I literally don’t know what I would have done if not for my karass.
And, what’s more? This past weekend seems to have marked a sunrise of sorts… I turned 30 on the 18th of March— just a few short days ago— and I was surrounded by such genuine and intentional love from so many of my favorite humans that I was certain my heart was about to pop. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced so many consecutive days of honest-to-goodness funhaving; my heart is still humming with heebie-jeebies of the best and most intoxicating of sorts. I know from the ache in my cheeks that my face beamed so brightly and for so long that I likely appeared uncomfortable in photos. I remember pulling smiles and throwing them them into the air, letting them bounce off the faces, arms, eyes, and chests of my loves before seizing them back with eager gratitude.
Am I happy? Sheesh. Oh, boy. Oh, boy. I’m elated. Life. You kidding me?
Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who came out this weekend; to everyone who spent their time and money to travel to be here; to everyone who humored so patiently my ridiculous requests, who encouraged my extra; to everyone who took care of me when I overindulged on whiskey and joy; to everyone who wanted to, but couldn’t come; to everyone who wished me well on the 18th, the last day of my 20s.
To every member of my karass, really.
I am so grateful to have made such connections that will—that have spanned a lifetime; authentic and crucial relationships that taught and teach me still. The weight of the love I have for these people is immense and towering, and though on occasion my heart heaves at the burden of such abundant and divergent devotion, I know I am stronger because of—am better for—am sustained by the struggle.
Y’all turn my heart right over.
All photos in this post are by the talented, brilliant, lovely, generous Alycia Choroszucha.