I’m currently in Hawaii with my immediate family (younger brother and two younger sisters and mother), my mother’s mother, and her husband (my mom’s stepdad). My own father’s at home for work.
My siblings love to berate me about spending lots of time in my room. Anytime we get in an argument, they pull out the fact that I spend all day in my room (false; I’ve spent much more time in the kitchen this summer) and how having a boyfriend keeps me locked up all the time (also false, but harder to explain).
There’s some truth to their argument, though. I don’t spend all of my time in my room, but I do write, play guitar, and read principally in my bed. Being alone for a few hours a day, working on this blog, the Common App (oh, joy) and writing my novel or reading keeps me sane. I simply do not have the natural capacity to spend time with people 24/7. The curse and blessing of the introvert: we are drained by interaction and charged by solitude.
A week with my family presents its challenges for this reason and others. I know most of you are here from Tiny Buddha, so you’re aware that I’m partial to Buddhism and like to follow a path of awareness and peace with other people. At school and with friends, I’m very good at looking at situations objectively and understanding why people act the way they do (whether because of insecurities or unawareness), and I can usually let it go. There’s something about siblings that makes this impossible for me.
In A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle (an amazing read), he encourages anyone who thinks they’re enlightened to spend a week with their parents. More than ever, I’m seeing the value and truth in what’s meant as a humorous statement. It’s hard for us as people to tolerate our families as we would other people. I am currently incapable of dealing with my siblings like I would other human beings.
What is it about our families that makes us so hard to look at them objectively? The fact that we’re cut from the same cloth? That we grew up with them? That we can attribute most of our childhood trauma to them? Even my grandparents are hard to look at objectively, and I see them once a year at most, so numbers two and three seem unlikely; at the same time, my grandpa isn’t blood-related to me, so number one seems to need elimination as well.
I feel like there’s something about the obligation of loving family that makes it so difficult to deal with them. We don’t have the option to reject them; unlike other people, we can’t walk away from our families (in normal circumstances). We don’t get to make a conscious decision to love them, it’s our duty and job. It’s sad, but something about being forced to do something makes me want to rebel against it a little, even if it’s something I’d do of my own accord.
We like to feel like we have choice, perhaps? I know I do. When I deal with someone at school, it’s not because I have to, it’s because I’m consciously deciding to love or care for that person, in that moment. I owe them nothing before or after the interaction. In some way, that makes it so much easier to do.
The obligation is also a two-way street: we are obliged to love our family, and they are obliged to love us back. No matter how frustrated I get with my siblings, there is the safety net of family that will always force us to reconcile and love each other once again. Sure, I can screw up our relationships, but none of them will walk out on me if I yell at them about something stupid. Friendships can be broken relatively easily, compared to family ties.
We take for granted our dual obligation to our families, and that’s why we can have such a hard time dealing with them. There’s no choice in loving, and there’s no fear of being unloved for acting rudely or unkindly. In essence, with our families, we get to be lazy.
If you’ve read any spiritual growth books, you’ve probably encountered that evil word. Lazy. According to my Bible, The Road Less Traveled, laziness is in essence non-love, and therefore the root of most evil. Laziness is the decision not to be conscious, aware, and objective; it is letting our emotions and whims drive us without being checked or corrected. It is what I am working against all the time, in school, my personal work, and my relationships.
Family, then, will be my last frontier. I know that. After writing this, I’ve realized how obligation paves the road for laziness not possible in other relationships. Isn’t that a strange thing? We love our families no matter what, and that gives us an excuse to act without love towards them.
Maybe we wrongly define love in terms of families. How many of us can say that we truly love (in the sense of action) all of our family members? I can’t. Maybe that’s depressing and awful and wrong, but it’s true. But I know that I’ll never lose the ones I do love, and I have to work harder to love the ones I don’t.