After the "Murmuration" family gathering two weeks ago, I am only now replentishing the energy I spent, as I inelegantly put it to a sister today, "loving and being loved by that many motherfuckers all at once."
But love isn't the main reason we spend time with our family, I don't think. And it's not the reason the reunion was so tiring.
What is family for?
I think there are two essential, simultaneously true facts of each of our lives: 1. We are changing all the time. 2. We're pretty much the same goofball that we were in the third grade.
The first fact is essential day to day, as it gives us reason to hope, direction to strive, motivation to continue to live. As my dad used to say, "Some people have 50 years of experience. Other people have one year's experience, 50 times." We want 50 years of experience, so we expose ourselves to new people, consider new ideas, look for new work to do—and we believe all these things are making us bigger and better and stronger and wiser.
But all that is some scary shit. It's space exploration. Often we expose ourselves to combinations of people and ideas and work that confuse us and make us feel desperately inadequate, alone and disconnected. Which is why we gather occasionally with our fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters, who will ask what's new in your world, will listen closely for exactly five minutes, express sincere enthusiasm for the revolutionary developments, and then spend the rest of Thanksgiving weekend exchanging old stories about who you really are, and always were.
This is what families do. And now that we don't live in an age when we need our family members to bring in the harvest, this "leveling," as the sociologists call it, may be a family's central function. But the adjustment from Murray on the Make to "Dado Potato" is also hard psychological labor, even—as during the Murmuration—in the best of circumstances.
When people dread seeing their families, it usually means they're not willing or able at the moment to acknowledge one of the two essential facts of their life: The fact that they are largely what they always were, and always will be.
And when people spend all their time with their families, it means they're so fearful of outer space—or unsuccessful astronauts—that they'll settle for having one year's experience 50 times, and reminding everybody else they're not such hot stuff either.
There are terrible families, of course. And all families collections of variously crazy people who are at their craziest when they're together.
But we should ask ourselves: Is our family dysfunctional? Or is it merely functional, but performing a function we don't appreciate.