My baby brother got married today. He’s 8 years younger than me and, due to the dynamics of our family, I played a large part in raising him. The family that was so incredibly dysfunctional when I was younger has grown and mellowed and aged. My super controlling world-renowned artist uncle has Parkinson’s, and while it’s made him hardly able to walk and totally unable to sculpt, he’s now very encouraging and even told me as I left, “Great job being yourself.” His wife, who used to routinely insult me and then insist that she was just kidding is older and wrinkled and very sweet. My cousin survived an abusive marriage and is now married to another man and happy and pregnant and gardening. Her adolescent son, who was molested by his father, has been adopted by his stepfather and is now an artist.
There were some difficult things going on. My uncle was just dumped by his girlfriend of twenty years and looked horribly sad. My other aunt has really bad hip problems and is walking like someone in her eighties, not someone who is 44. My sister is still not very nice to me – although I did get to hold my beautiful 2 1/2 month old niece. But most of it was OK, and that was what surprised me.
Artists have it rough, I think, and not just because it’s hard to make a living. In fact, many of my relatives make a very good living with their art. The tough thing about being an artist is that somehow – and I’m not sure how it works exactly – I think you have to feel things more strongly than most people. Maybe in order to see the beauty in life to the level that you can express it creatively, you have to feel the sadness and the pain more than most people. I’m not sure, but it’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for decades now. Most of my family members are artists and they (we? I sometimes include myself but not always) are, at the same time, incredibly blessed by their talent and tortured by it.
We took family photos and I was alone in them. My brother and his now-wife were in the middle, of course. My parents are still married (that in itself is a miracle) and were together. My sister and brother-in-law held their baby. And then there was me. The extended family photos weren’t much better. My aunt and uncle. My other aunt and uncle. My cousin, husband, and two kids. My other cousin, husband and two kids. My step-cousin and her boyfriend and their kid. On the other side of the family were my recently-dumped uncle and my widowed grandmother so I wasn’t totally alone.
It’s still a struggle to not let that define me. I can be the seventh wheel in my family and still be valuable. My parents’ shelves are filled with photos: My brother and my new sister-in-law, my sister and her husband, my parents together. Then there’s me and my dog. Sometimes it’s horribly difficult to see that there – I feel like I’m not as good as the others because no one has yet wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. I know that’s not true – that God doesn’t take these kinds of things into account – but God’s not there in a photo with me. Sometimes I think to myself that eventually everyone will be widowed or divorced and we’ll all be alone but that just makes me feel mean and petty. Usually this happens when I’m angry with God for not bringing me what I’m praying for – a husband or release from loneliness.
The real truth is that if I had married any of the people I thought I wanted to marry, I would be miserable and probably a lot more broken than I am. It’s likely that I wouldn’t be writing this blog because I’d still be depressed. I definitely wouldn’t have learned that I can actually sit at home alone and be contented and sometimes even joyful. I think the story that I am in right now is a miracle – a divine gift from God and a miracle of healing. This may not last, knowing me, but right now I can say that I’d rather have that than what I used to think I wanted, even if it means standing alone in photos. It’s hard, though, to look deeper into my life for the blessings and gifts and values, and not just take the easy way of pointing to a photo and counting that as my self-worth.