Thanksgiving, Day 22: Friends and Family

I was going to do this as two separate entries, but I found that I was saying the same things both times. Rather than double up like that, I figured I’d put all y’all into one entry and let that be the one to close off this little project.

NO.

A few months ago, when I was taking the Proust Questionnaire, I noted that I feel like I have lost the ability to make friends. At least, I’m not nearly as good at it as I once was. To quote:

I have come to suspect that I’m not actually a friendly person. I think I’m polite, kind, supportive, even funny. I can be nice, helpful, I can teach without being condescending, and I can listen to what people have to say.

Lost somewhere in all that, though, is the kind of openness and willingness to make a genuine connection with others that would best be described as “friendly.” I hold myself back. I keep a certain measured distance between me and other people, and I’m really not sure why.

I figure I must have been able to do this at some point – after all, I do have friends. And I’m talking real-people friends, not just names on a Facebook list. Barring catastrophic betrayal or the triumph of apathy, we’ll probably be friends for quite some time. But whatever talent it was that I had back in the day seems to have dimmed.

It is because of this difficulty that I am so thankful for the friends I do have. Some of them go back to high school, some to college, and all of them are part of who I am. Our shared history, the funny, strange, sad, weird things we did together, are what made me the person that I am today, and without all of those people [1] I wouldn’t be the person I am today. When I was going through all the sturm und drang of youth, my friends were there. When I came out to them as gay, not a single one turned their back on me. When I moved to Japan, I knew they would still be over on the other side of the world, and that the wonder that is the internet would mean that we had no reason not to stay in each others’ lives. Even if we do not talk quite as often as we should.

There have been some friends who have drifted away, for reasons all their own. I hope to see them again someday, to catch up and see where their lives have taken them.

Close enough.

My family, too, is a group of people who have made me the person I am today, and they are people that I will always treasure. I hear stories sometimes – often around holidays – about people who don’t get along with their family, or who don’t even like them. Stories of resentment and jealousy and betrayal abound, and people who come from these unhappy families will tell you at length about how unhappy they are.

The storyteller in me perks up when I hear this. After all, it was Tolstoy who said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In terms of drama potential, an unhappy family is always better. But in terms of real life, I think I’ll stick with the one I have.

As with my friends, my family has always been supportive and loving. Again, when I came out, I was assured over and over again that my being gay changed nothing. And it didn’t. When I wanted to move to Japan, they all supported my grand adventure. [2] We all want the best for each other, and I think that’s what really makes the family as strong as it is.

What’s more, they’re all interesting people. I can tell – and often have told – countless stories about my brothers and my sister and the lives they live. I tell about my parents and the things they taught us when we were children. I talk about my extended family of cousins and aunts and uncles, of stepbrothers and sisters, relatives related not by blood but by the choice to be part of this strange amalgam of souls.

I have long thought that none of us is truly an individual. We did not come into this world with our personalities wholly formed and ready to go. The person I experience as “I” is a collection of influences and experiences, all of which are inextricably tied up with the people who have come into my life since the first moment it began. And they, in turn, have been shaped by me and my decisions. I have made them who they are just as they have made me who I am. Our personalities and our identities are what emerge from this constant trading of influences.

It is this lesson that my friends and family have taught me over the years: we are all responsible to each other, to make each other better. The world has a million different ways of making us miserable. My friends and family have taught me not to add to that number.

…sigh…

And so with that I thank you all. This has been a good bit of blogging, I think, fundamental to what the whole idea of Thanksgiving is all about – thinking about the things in your life that give it meaning and purpose. I have a great many things to be thankful for, and that in itself is something to be thankful for.

Now. Go eat.

—–
[1] And I’m not even going to start making a list – as soon as you start including people, then you run the risk of excluding by accident. I don’t want to see that happen. You all know who you are.
[2] Though I suspect my mother may be having second thoughts about that, twelve years later…

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