“Have you noticed that only in time of illness or disaster or death are people real?” – Walker Percey
Usually it’s when the bottom falls out that we discover what we’re made of.
- Remember when your car was in the shop and your friend from work gave you a ride – for a week?
- What about when your dad was in the hospital and your neighbor took care of your kids after school?
- Two years ago when your friend from church was going through cancer treatments and you signed up to take meals over to her house.
- When the hurricane hit and all those people were displaced and needed so much help getting back on their feet.
We also realize who we can count on as the going keeps getting tougher and rougher. For most of us, our families are the deep reservoir (usually taken for granted) that we can depend upon when a disaster hits. What’s troubling is that for a growing number of Americans family is becoming a weakened resource as relationships fracture and bonds become more and more temporary.
Anthropologists use the term “Fictive Kinship” to describe those members of your family who aren’t related by marriage or biology. They are your Godparents, your best friends, your friends for life, that guy who’s just like a brother…
“One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.” – Euripides
Many of us have these “fictive kin” in our families. We probably don’t have enough. Less than 20% of families in our country today are composed of a married couple with children. What we once called “family” is changing for all kinds of reasons.
What never changes is the deep need every one of us has for connections with others and the difficult circumstances that we will face during the course of our lives. Getting through life works better when you’ve got a team at your back.
“Having someone wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night is a very old human need. ” – Margaret Mead
As our collective marital and biological ties to people begin to dwindle, we need to take a good hard look at the consequences. While we’re doing that, we need to compensate by make deep and abiding connections with others. People with friends are healthier, make more money and live longer. It’s even been suggested that it’s a toss up about which you should do to insure a healthier and longer life, give up smoking or make more friends.
When we face disasters in our life we need people to help us with all the little things as well as the great big ones. Everything is important. When the bottom falls out it is these “kinfolk” who come out of the woodwork and save the day.
“A friend is one who walks in when others walk out.” – Walter Winchell
There isn’t a sign up sheet at Starbucks to get a set of “fictive kin” to add to your family. What you need to do is start helping a friend of yours. Start building stronger bonds by bridging the gaps of time, distance and indifference. We all follow the “norm of reciprocity” to some degree – when you scratch my back, I feel obligated scratch yours. Those kinds of obligations are the building blocks of civilization. We don’t get by asking, we get by giving. Who needs you today? Start giving a little bit of yourself. A little more today than yesterday. One day soon you too will need someone.