I’ve been reflecting on what makes a person “family”. Certainly there are the legal connections by marriage and birth or adoption. There are folks who, like it or not, are family. But what about my mother’s best childhood friend, whom I grew up calling my aunt? Or my friends who my young children knew as uncle? Or the playmates my kids were so tight with, that their parents felt like family too? Clearly there is some point at which that personal connection becomes deep enough, and comfortable enough, that people shift from friends to becoming like family…or perhaps even more so.
Cob here, thinking about the many different families I have felt part of and the many different people who feel like part of my family. In relaying the Dancing Rabbit news of this past week, I’m looking through that lens and trying to identify for myself what makes that essential difference. I invite you to do the same as you journey through your own calendar this month.
We have some familiar visitors: Nik passed through, and will be continuing on to visit former Rabbits Lucas and Brooke, carrying along our various gifts and tokens of affection, plus current Rabbit Liz’s son is here from California this week, helping out with various projects, and former Rabbit Amanda and her partner spent a couple days while passing through on their way elsewhere. There is a delightful ease in these visits as they remember household norms, know where things are, and make themselves at home…including helping with cooking and chores. We are also missing some familiar faces as several Rabbits are sitting a Vipassana retreat, spending time with their meditation peeps. Rae and Aaron are working hard on finishing their wood-gassifier-run pickup truck (more on that below) before they take it on the road to film and document the work of their extended environmental and social justice protester family. We certainly look forward to their slide show when they return home next spring!
There were other regular family gatherings of note. My scifi-loving family gathered this week to watch the newest episode of Star Trek: Discovery, and has been talking about what to watch next. Collectively we have accounts with enough different online streaming services to make the possibilities nearly endless. Fortunately we can at least agree on the popcorn. My Milkweed Mercantile Coop family also had one our regular meetings to review the past season, discuss what might need to change next year, and to figure out how we can better support each other in our work. I also belong to a family of poker players, and we had a particularly enjoyable game this past week with Uncle Kurt rejoining us after some time away. Some people might say it’s about winning…which is certainly nice, but for me it’s much more about spending time together, sharing stories and laughing.
What’s any family without some crazy kid antics? This week many of the young ‘uns transformed themselves into a variety of monsters, superheros, and other amazingly imaginative creatures, to spend an afternoon trick-or-treating on the Memphis square. They returned to share their excitement (and sugar-buzz) during our annual Progressive Fiasco. If you’re not familiar with this particular Dancing Rabbit tradition, the adults get to join in the fun (including with costumes) as the entire village travels as a group from stop to stop. The host of each stop knows the exact sequence of travel, so they’re able to just skip ahead when their turn is coming up. At Thistledown, Ewan valiantly upheld his brothers’ now 10-year old tradition with a “flaming pumpkin of doom”. He only singed the picnic table a little bit. Inside, Sigmund Freud’s mother shared some starkly German stories from her childhood…including one about the mad tailor who would snip off your thumbs if you sucked them. Naturally she served severed thumbs (complete with tomato blood) for a snack. This particular book of children’s stories was actually published in Berlin in 1939, lest you think it all made up.
On a less macabre note, Dan Kelly brought a truckload of goodies from his organic apple orchard in nearby Canton MO. This was the first year in my experience, where folks from Dancing Rabbit didn’t make it out to help with the various harvests of different apple varieties. Just when I was feeling sad about the lack of fresh apples or unadulterated cider, Dan saved the day, like a favorite uncle, by bringing the harvest to us. He set up at the DR public market and dispensed appley goodness for several hours.
My Cattail executive committee family had a little get-together that same afternoon, checking in on the status of our various tasks, deciding what our next priorities are, and reviewing our 2017 financial reports in preparation for working up a budget for 2018. I must say that doing this work successfully means understanding the entire family…not just those at the meetings. It’s like a big holiday meal gathering…figuring out who is bringing what, determining optimal seating arrangements, and who’s going to do the dishes. That’s an inexact metaphor, but close enough to fit within my theme.
As with many families, I don’t necessarily participate in ALL activities. There were some lovely days for long walks or playing frisbee, some cold/gloomy days perfect for afternoon naps or making plans for winter travel, and evenings for going to bed early while others stayed up singing or playing games until late. As the days get shorter and colder, I have the seasonal expectation for life to slow down or somehow become less-full. Thursday pizza night at the www.milkweedmercantile.com ran counter to that expectation, as we had a busy and full evening slinging pizza for our guests from far and near. The dining room is set up family-style, so our guests have ample opportunity for conversation with other groups of folk. It’s heartwarming to watch new connections forming, previously unknown connections come to light, and prior strangers grow into ease and comfort with one another.
In my family, everyone always took an interest in each others life changes or new projects, and it’s no different here. Rae and Aaron proudly showed off their progress on converting their pickup truck to run on wood. They both learned welding and other techniques to make this project a reality, and Aaron has reported his personal frustration and impatience with welding, along with his appreciation for Rae’s skilled and patient approach which has allowed their project to come together so quickly. I look forward to their next demonstration, as I missed this one. I was in Kansas City this weekend visiting with my older two boys learning more about their current plans and passions. I felt joyful and reassured to see all the enthusiasm and creativity expressed by Duncan and his classmates at Kansas City Art Institute, and the mature independence all my boys are visibly growing toward.
Entering this particular holiday season, I’m especially aware of the family members I’m missing. Both those from years past and those whose paths I simply haven’t crossed recently. For me, this is partly because so many memories are associated with various holiday traditions and practices. Uncle Irwin who gradually coaxed me into liking rutabagas, Aunt Harriet who had the most unusual yet infectious laugh, my cousin Kim who I got to see every other year…usually at the Christmas eve church service, and of course my grandmother’s signature holiday meals. I am also feeling the increasing independence of my own children, as well as the declining health of my father, and anticipating an associated shifting of focus in my time and attention toward different family members.
What feels true for me is that anyone can become family. Maybe all that is required is a little bit of time and some shared curiosity. Given the variety of families I feel so much a part of, and the impact that has on my own well-being, I wonder what the world would feel like if everyone were treated as part of one giant extended family? Perhaps health care wouldn’t be so contentious, or malnutrition and hunger so rampant. Could civility make a comeback in the civic and political realm? Perhaps instead of so much mistrust and fear of others based on our differences, there would be greater curiosity and excitement about our individual passions, interests, and similarities. May your family, of what ever type, size, or distance, continue to be a source of connection, mutual support, and compassion through and beyond the coming holidays.
Save the date: #GivingTuesday 2017 is November 28th! We’re proud to be a part of the global celebration of giving. Click here to find out more!
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us (dancingrabbiticorg) .