An email from my cousin Susie today reminds me of the extent to which I have lost touch with my family over the years. I distanced myself physically already in 1962, when I moved for the first time over the Atlantic--spending two decompression years in Nova Scotia before coming to the United States, where I have lived ever since. It's now, unbelievably, fifty years. No wonder I have parted ways with the family.
Susie's mother was my father's sister, Nancy, who, as a young woman, was a promising young sculptor much influenced by the art deco period. I remember many years ago seeing one work of hers, a sleekly elegant female figure, and wondering how she might have progressed as an artist had she not married and had a large brood of children to take care of. Her husband, a scholar of Biblical languages, a Cambridge don and an Anglican minister, was possessed, as I recall, of a wonderful sense of humor. In his later years he suffered from Alzheimer's, which seems now, to judge from Susie's email, to run in that side of the family. I was fascinated to read of her siblings, my cousins, and their families, with all their joys and tragedies. A family, I suppose, as any other--though more extended than most.
With Flora now gone, my only sister, I am the last of a generation in our immediate family--a patriarch of sorts. Flora and I each had two children by our early marriages, two girls, two boys; and my daughter with Ellie, Sarah, came along a decade later. We have four grandchildren, three of them in England: Alice, now sixteen, and the twins, Joseph and Georgia, thirteen; and now little Luka, three and a half.
I have been dwelling, in my meditation, on the intimacy of family and the support of often unspoken, even unheeded love. And how my own defection, those many years ago, was mirrored by my son, Matthew's, who left American for Japan, right after college graduation; and how a continent and an ocean separates us from him and from our grandchildren, just as an ocean and a continent separated my own parents from theirs. Is this the manifestation of a kind of karma? "The sins of the father," as recorded in the book of Exodus, to be "visited upon the children, and the children's children..."? Or the old cliché, "Like father, like son"?
I'm finding something of the spirit of the ancestors hidden in my psyche, the longing to be huddled in the safety of a cave with those closest to me. I'm missing that intimate, physical, geographical proximity to my kin. Like it or not, the modern age has split us all apart, and continues to do so on an ever larger scale, as populations shift in search of a better life, safety from the whims of tyrants, from famine and warfare, from oppression of all kinds. It seems that family is no longer strong enough to hold us close together as it used to do, even though the ancient instinctive need persists. It just takes loss to bring it to the surface.