Monday, October 12, 2009

All happy families...

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Tolstoy 1).

Last night, I began reading Anna Karenina for the first time. You know when you read a line or hear a lyric or catch a camera shot in a film that is just so true it hurts? Tolstoy’s line hits me in that solar-plexus soft spot and makes me wonder about my families. I say “families” because I seem to have several now. There is my immediate family, my clan of extended relatives, and my married-into family, each full of folks I love. There is a kind of classic joy threading its way through all three family cultures; I can see it in the albums of photos in every home and I hold it in my heart, in the memories of food shared, stories told and adventures survived.

But what about the unhappiness? Some of my family members have had more of that than others—untimely deaths, unhappy marriages, unwilling displacements and unfair illnesses have shadowed the good times and the good intentions of many. And what about the drudgery of daily life? Snapping at my husband for no good reason last night, I shocked myself: I wouldn’t want to act like that around our kid!

Maybe it’s the idealism of the uninitiated, but I still have this belief that if I can just be my better self—not even my BEST self—we will be one of the “happy families” when we have a child. Maybe if I don’t focus on the little things and take time to appreciate what I have, I will be less inclined to pick at/nag/whine about my child and husband. Maybe our grown-up kid will read that line in Anna Karenina and say, “Ah, so true—and what a joy it was to grow up in the right side of those metaphorical tracks.”

However, when I look at my families, I see how the unhappiness arrives, unwelcome, from all directions. It can come from within—perhaps in ways that we can control—but more often than not, it comes from without. And the world without seems capable of infinite variation on the theme of adversity, as Tolstoy observed. So what are we to do? How to be a “happy family”? Upon whose shoulders does this burden rest?

Maybe this is yet another aspect of life over which I have little-to-no control…

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