Today I observed a women’s Turkish class at our community center, Yusra. The topic of today’s lesson was weather. The women seemed a little confused. They are from Syria. We keep their children in the other room so they can focus on learning Turkish in order to integrate into Turkish society and make daily interactions a little easier for them. A woman raised her hand and asked in Arabic, “Teacher, when will we learn about family?”
I couldn’t help but feel perplexed by this question. As the teacher postponed the question and moved onto seasons of the year (they will learn about family in the next lesson), I wondered to myself if the urgency of this topic would be the same for other foreign language learners. Even though it is easy to recognize that everyone’s situation is different and calls for different urgencies, it seems to me that this simple request could have a profound impact on the way we as humans, prioritize what is important to us.
Most of us have heard “you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family”. However just because we are assigned a family, it doesn’t mean we learn about family in our own homes. It took me 29 years of learning about family to fully comprehend it. To me, family embodies the concept of unconditional love and can include anyone we choose to include. I love my family. We are all flawed and it is beautiful and in many ways, disfunctional, but we are family so… so what. I can make fun of my family, but don’t you dare. You don’t know my family like I do. You don’t know that with every complaint I have (which are few and far between these days thank goodness), there are 100 amazing things I can say about their character or the evidence of their unconditional love for me.
I felt little sense of family growing up. Everyone has a story. I’m sure my reality is different than some of my family members, but for me growing up, my friends were my family. These were the people I trusted. These were the people who helped me survive and encouraged me to thrive. Family is family, and family is for life.
These days I live abroad and I talk to my family more than I ever did when I lived in the same country as them. Part of that is due to health issues befallen on immediate family members and part of it is that being so far away physically, has truly made my heart grow fonder. My parents are getting older. My mother’s health is deteriorating unexpectedly. My siblings are growing up quickly. My father’s side of the family is multiplying at a rapid pace. Some people are growing and some people are going. The older I get, the more I learn about death.
Filling my life with purpose through a career change and volunteer efforts has centered me around the idea of family. Living a busy life is a constant reminder that the clock is ticking. Working with displaced families has opened my eyes to my fortune of all things emotionally rich. As I reflect on experiences like the one I had today sitting in class, listening to a mother express the necessity to learn about family in another language, has grown my appreciation for where human connection begins. Whether they taught me what to do or what not to do, I made it this far because I have family, and whether you choose to recognize it or not, so do you.
I am so grateful for the wonderful people in my life and the like-minded people around the globe that continue to remind the rest of us what’s really important. I have many friends who are separated from their families by force and now there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about how difficult it must be to have forced separation from those you love the most. To anyone separated, to anyone missing someone irreplaceable, to anyone who has lost someone, you aren’t alone because as humans, we are all family. To anyone who is estranged from their family, I get it, but I would still like to say that there is such a thing as “too late”, so I would encourage you to break the silence if you can do so because well, because family.