Living in community

Before our daughter was married, the man who is now her husband sought me out. He wanted to do things properly and was told that it was a tradition for a young man to ask a woman’s father for permission to propose to her. He was really nervous as he asked me the question. I was expecting it, so it was much easier for me. I said two things in response. The first was that while I would encourage him to propose to her, it wasn’t my choice. Whether or not to marry and who to marry was her choice and her answer was the one that mattered. The second thing I said to him was to simply inform him that she “comes with a family.” By that I meant that we would continue to be her parents and her brother would continue to be her brother even after they married. I told him that he was getting more than a wife if she said yes. He would also be gaining her whole family.

I hope that was sound advice. It certainly has seemed that way to me. With easily available and affordable technology we talk with our daughter several times each week. We are present, over Skype or FaceTime in their home on a regular basis. And we have visited in their home almost every year of their marriage. This year was different. They live in Japan. Travel to Japan was not possible for us with the pandemic and the challenges of retiring and moving to a new home. Still, we feel very connected to her and to our grandson. And we feel connected to her husband. Although we had two children in our family when they were growing up, we often think of ourselves as parents to four children now that they are adults. Their spouses are as integral to our family constellation as any of the other of us. And their children are central in our lives. When the time comes for grandchildren to marry the universe of our family will continue to expand.

It was that way for us when we married, too. I was a relatively young man when my father died. I had more years with my father-in-law than I had with my father. And my in-laws were very important people in my live. My wife’s sisters are my sisters in many ways. And my siblings are special people in her life as well.

I once read somewhere, thought I cannot remember the source, that “marriage is a community of two.” Indeed marriage is a community, but it has never been just two in our experience. Yes, there are only two people who live in this house right now. But it is often filled with our grandchildren and their parents. My sister will arrive today for a short visit. In February our daughter and her family will stop as they move from Japan to South Carolina. Our daughter and grandson may be with us for a couple of weeks or even more as they work out where they are going to live and wait for their possessions to be shipped from Japan.

When we were looking for a home to rent, one of the things we were certain we wanted in a house was room for guests. And, in the season of pandemic, that means, for the most part, room for family. We know we need to be careful and as people who have traveled, we know that we need to observe protocols to avoid the possibility that we might carry the virus, but being a family is essential to our way of life.

Right now our “bubble” is our son and his family and my sister. All of the rest of our family we are only seeing only through technology. I have a brother who lives less than 50 miles from our new home, but we have not gotten together face-to-face and may not do so until after we’ve all received the vaccine. We aren’t taking this pandemic lightly. But we are willing to accept some risk to remain in relationship with those we love.

Reading through the Christmas letters we receive from friends, I realize that there are a lot of different approaches to the pandemic. We have friends who have remained completely isolated, leaving their homes only for doctor or dentist appointments that could not be conducted over telemedicine. They have their groceries delivered and they don’t go out for any reason. I’m not sure how they can maintain their sanity with such isolation. It seems to me to be a kind of new monasticism - a spiritual discipline of distance. Some of us haven’t been called to the monastic life, however. I am a fairly independent person and I enjoy time to myself. I’m completely happy to be all alone in the shop, making things. I spend quite a bit of time in the garage yesterday crafting furniture for a doll house. I enjoyed it.

But I do not live alone. I have a partner with whom I sit down to meals and with whom I discuss the events of my day. I have children who send me pictures of my grandchildren every day. I have grandchildren who are full of questions and whose learning and discovering the world is fascinating and engaging for me. I wouldn’t have been making doll house furniture if it wasn’t for a couple of granddaughters who have been having a lot of fun playing with their aunt’s doll house that still has a place in our home all these years after she has grown up.

I think we are best when we live in community. Although the community of the church is challenged by the pandemic, we are discovering ways to continue to be a community for one another. Despite online church and a whole host of challenges, we are beginning to feel connected to a congregation in our new home. A letter from one of the pastors sparked a warm feeling and stirred conversation among us yesterday.

In one of the creation stories that our people have been telling for generations, God observes the first human and says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Fortunately I have never had to experience that kind of being alone. Being in a family, however, is good.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!