For chosen family

On the 25th day, I am grateful for chosen family.

Renee and I have some friends in Raleigh named Karen and Toney who are retired jewelers, and they have had a life full of adventures. As a result, they have a wide range of friends from all over the world. And when we lived in their city, so far from our own families, they sort of adopted us. A mutual friend said once that Karen and Toney collect people. And we were part of their collection.

They lived in a large old house, filled with knick-knacks from their travels – there is the Persian rug brought back from Iran, over there the Buddha from India, the animal skin from the Southwest, the antique couch from Goodwill. It was an eclectic house, but in a good way.

And when we lived there, we went to their house for Thanksgiving. Everyone brought something, and just as their friends were eclectic, so was the meal – there was American style turkey and dressing, for sure, but there was also babaganoush, and eggrolls, and empanadas, and baklava. They would put out the invitation – if you don’t have a place to eat Thursday, well, now you do. Come as you are and bring what you can.

When you got there, the table was already full, but Karen would always say, ‘Don’t worry – we will make room”, and another chair magically appeared and people would scooch their chairs and now there was room for one more person at this most unlikely of feasts. By the end of the day there would be several tables added to the end of the dining room table that now extended into the living room.

And I am here to tell you, that would be the best meal you had all year, and the most diverse. The last year we were there we ate with, among others, an undocumented house painter, a professional dulcimer player, a nurse who worked on death row, a Syrian mathematician, a folk singer, and the woman who had worked the front desk at a nearby retirement community.

It was crowded, and there was lots of shuffling and “pardon me” and “let me scooch by”. There were kids playing and new people arriving and hugs and introductions and passing the potatoes and the deserts – my God, the desserts.

And after the meal the musical instruments would come out, and impromptu jam sessions would happen and people who had other obligations would come by to visit. Their daughter’s ex-husband was a vegetarian, and since he often had to work on Thanksgiving he would come by during this point, and Karen had always made sure there was food he could eat, and a plate would be made and his children would surround him as he ate, and tell him of their adventures that day.

And it would last until late in the evening, with people snacking the rest of the day, and guitar picking in the living room and camera flashes and…

It was always a very good day.

But we also got invited to birthday parties. Dance recitals. Block parties. Christmas. Easter. It was lovely – we were part of their family. You instantly had plans for every holiday, you had people who loved you, you had people who would miss you when you moved away. And people you miss since having moved away.

It seems to me that there are two types of family: those you are born to, and those you choose. And while the former is a biological fact, the second is a decision. On this thanksgiving day, I’m grateful for our friends who decided we are part of their family, and who have modeled for us, again and again over the years, the sort of lives we want to have.

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