Travel like this is sort of an out-of-body experience. Were we really there? Did our heads leave and return to the same pillows on that day and yet give us the gift of those few hours with family far away?
In the natural course of things on the way home we talked some about the family we had just seen. Ken made calls to his dad and sister to "report in," and conversation around the nature of those conversations (or lack thereof) fueled further conversation. I shared with Ken a recent conclusion I had reached after reflecting on the stories and details of families with whom I am acquainted. No matter what "norm" our culture/society tries to paint of what a family looks like, few bear a resemblance to that projected norm.
Whether the family portrait reflects hues of divorce, addiction, triplets, estrangement, illness, adoption, no children, eight children, disability, premature death, infidelity, abuse, gifted children, homosexuality, celebrity, poverty, trophy wives, wealth, fill in the blank--it seems that no family is spared a reality skewed from the cultural ideal (I am not attaching value to any of these descriptors, only naming deviations from the cultural script). Some of us are unphased by this, some adapt, others learn to cope reasonably well, and still others carry scars that impair them for life.
Reflecting on that notion further this morning I heard in my mind a scene from Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film Romeo and Juliet. I was 11 when I saw it, and was captivated by it. I bought the record of the movie and listened to it endlessly, essentially memorizing the whole thing. The scene to which I refer is the concluding portion of the story, whereupon receiving news of the deaths of Paris, Romeo and Juliet the prince ferets out what led to their demise. To the heads of the Capulet and Montague families he says,
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,In the film, astride his horse, the prince repeats those final three words, shouting them at the top of his voice, "all are punished!" The words reverberate among the cobbled floor of the town square and the walls of buildings surrounding it.
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish'd.
It is that declaration of punishment that echoes in my mind now, not stemming from hate and power-wrangling as in the case of Shakespeare's story, but as a result of the many ways our lives become fractured and damaged. It causes me to wonder why, when we have the means to heal and recover from damaging story lines, and when the desire for wholeness generally permeates our being, we shrink from opportunities that lead to that wholeness. Why is it so hard to be honest and vulnerable, to risk sharing our hurts and bridging gaps when instead hateful words are hurled, or taunting putdowns and meanness carry the day? I know the clinical answers, but that's not good enough. I believe we all have the capacity to put aside whatever false benefit we believe power holds for us, to be seared by the healing power that comes from love, or at the least, the willingness to respect another person. It boggles my mind that the world is full of so much dysfunction when it doesn't have to be, and worse, that human beings choose dysfunction over health. The result is that we all are punished.
I know it can be wearying to put on our best face, to lay bare the rawness of our being in an effort to overlook the toxic fruit that emanates from the wounds of others. I am convinced, however, that without efforts to show love in return, to mete out kindness and compassion as balms for those wounds, we will spend our lives in the shadow of punishment. That's unacceptable to me. I hope it is unacceptable to you as well.