No Family Is an Island — So Be a Light to Others
There is often a sacrifice to be made in reaching out beyond the family ties, but the benefits of giving make it worth it.
“There are no insular families,” observed a priest leading a retreat I had attended several years ago. What Father advised us made sense in light of the increasing social dysfunction in which so many children grow up. How do we shine our light as Christians and advocate for nuclear families to be developed when so many American children now have no traditional family structure on which to build? Who helps such children? How do they belong to a family?
Getting involved and standing up for other people was an important part of life which both of my parents passed on to me. “We are our brother’s keepers” was their motto — a line I also recall from an address by a high school administrator. It was a regular component of life for my parents to care for the poor and be active in local politics. A 1960’s stay-at-home mom, my mother still took us kids with her and attended local meetings to make our town and community a better place for all.
From my earliest days, I can recall handing out brochures advocating pro-life candidates at the county fair, scooping ice cream for a political party fundraiser and playing with children in my home’s backyard while our mothers went to the church to help establish daycare for the children of migrant workers picking tomatoes in the Ohio farmland. Caring for other people outside of our nuclear family was a regular part of our lives. It was part of being a Christian.
It is with such a background that I also hope our nation will change its policy on Afghanistan. Can assistance from afar really replace being present to help those in need? There is surely a price to pay for taking a risk and helping many people.
I believe my parents cared so much for other people in our small town community because they had been involved in a foreign conflict far from home. No doubt both had emotional scars from being involved in World War II. I can remember my father, a U.S. Army serviceman deployed in Nazi Germany, waking up from nightmares in the middle of the night in our home in Ohio, convinced that he was still being pursued by Nazi soldiers. My father suffered the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mom recalled the horribly monotonous job of making airplane parts in a factory, with no natural light as the factory windows were covered to evade the enemy. From wearing a helmet for four years, Dad had very little hair left in his mid-20’s at the end of the War; yet, he also had this great sense of humor and happiness simply to be alive.
Neither parent ever regretted the sacrifices they made for humanity. When they eventually met and married in 1960, Dad took Mom to visit the now-empty concentration camp in Dachau, Germany, as one stop on their honeymoon, to show her that everything they had gone through during the War was worth it in helping other people to be free. Both of them had a willingness to forget themselves and suffer for what was right. It is this type of person who perceives a bigger world with commitments to others in need.
I now pray the same morning prayer my father prayed daily, the Franciscan Morning Prayer, which I believe describes the attitude Dad had in starting each day despite the negative aspects of his past:
Jesus Lord, I offer you this new day because I believe
In you, love you, hope all things in you and thank you
For your blessings.
I am sorry for having offended you and forgive everyone
Who has offended me.
Lord, look on me and leave in me your peace and courage
And humble wisdom that I may serve others with joy and
Be pleasing to you all day.
Can we practice a similar simple approach in giving to God all the difficulties of reaching out to other people both in our country and abroad? My hope is that the people of Afghanistan will not be forgotten by the United States as we recall comparable situations in which we as Americans made a difference by being present in a foreign country with a broader, strategic interest for us as a nation.
Here in the United States it is this human presence that so many children need, too. More memorable than the pageantry of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at my father’s funeral, was the attendance at it by old friends of mine who recalled being loved by my father as a father to them, too. I may have lost contact with them over the years, but they never forgot the love of my Army vet dad for them as children from a distressed household who felt at peace within our family.
Who are the children who I can include in my family? Who are the adults who need a place to go for Thanksgiving and Christmas? I want to build my sphere of influence to spread God’s love by making people feel like they belong. Who needs a medical emergency contact? Who needs a telephone call from someone who makes them feel as similarly special as their now-deceased parents? I want to be that person who remembers and often find that it’s not hard to find people with no family who simply want to be part of one.
The family of God is bigger than my family, and it makes me a sister to those across the street and in a foreign land alike. We should stand up for the preservation of the nuclear family, but we must acknowledge that so many young people in the United States simply have no present traditional family structure to build on. It is including these young people and adults in our families that spreads peace and maintains the well-being of our larger society.
Without this willingness of nuclear families to include others, we simply cannot expect to have that peace and proper social function within the United States and abroad in foreign countries. There is often a sacrifice to be made in reaching out, but the benefits of giving make it worth it.