Family We Are Born With and Family We Choose

I am in Florida visiting the family I was born into. It is such a different world from what I do my best to live in. They are well-meaning people… and I have so little in common with them.

Our family reunions are toxic food served on disposables with many conversations about babies, marriage (of course only between a man and a woman) and church.

I love them and yet I feel so sad whenever I come visit. I am not quite sure why my Karma had me born into this family.

I show up with my reusable container, utensils, and mug every year. Every year I bring salad which almost noone eats and some other veggie dish which this year they liked and ate a majority of (roasted root vegetables.) Every year, I do my very best to model the solutions, and I am pretty sure I have never once made an impact on them and the way they live their lives. And it breaks my heart and pretty much makes me feel hopeless about the state of our world.

This time, I was blown away when a relative asked, “Are you dating anybody? Guy or Girl?” WOW!!! I think they are pretty much the only one in my family who is totally cool with whatever my answer to that would be. Most of the rest of my family, if they read this blog, and know that I have dated both men and women and am in favor of all people being supported in loving relationships regardless of gender, would have a problem. And I would never be allowed to bring a girl I was dating home to meet them. That is a sin and although “they love the sinners, they despise the sin.” Which translates to a huge portion of my life is not acceptable to them.

A long time ago, I let go of the belief that I “should” do anything for or with my family of origin. I have nothing to prove there. This isn’t my “work” as many people say families are often about.

I have been so incrediblly blessed and humbled to my core by my family of choice that I have met and deeply connected with over the years. My “aunties” in Northern California and my Mendocino family and my “Framily” in the Bay Area. These are the family I go to to be renewed, supported, and loved in the way I so deeply long for.

My family of origin, I love and they, for the most part, love me. Only thing is, that love is held together by a tenous string of inauthenticity. And that makes it hard for me to be here.

My immediate family of parents and siblings– we too are very different. Somehow, we make it work– probably because we almost never see each other and only speak on rare occasions. We have almost nothing in common other than blood.

I do love them all. But I feel like an alien in my family who walks around covered in a shield in order to deal with the experience.

I wish them all the very best blessings that the Universe has to offer. I wish them joy, love, peace, and health. And I am extremely grateful for when I can be back with my family of choice. They show me what family can truly feel like.

Here’s to famlies everywhere– every description, every gender relationship, every shape, form, and possibility. May we all be connected to families that renew our spirits– whether they be families of origin or families of choice.

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Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 5:10 am  Comments (34)  

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  1. julia, it is so sad, but true, you are not the only one to feel like this during holidays with their biological family. so sad when those we should be able to be closest with choose not to evolve, change and grow but instead cling to old, archaic beliefs and behaviors. i am so happy for you though that you still are who you are and are comfortable with who you are! life is a journey and it is sad so many people choose to only go so far down the path. that they don’t open their hearts and minds and see the possiblities and wonders of new ways and ideas. sending you big herbal and honey hugs and yes love, because you are a special, wonderful person:)

  2. Family always are there with us when we need them, blessing us all the time!

  3. I feel the exact same say. Thank you for writing this. It helps other people a lot.

  4. For Thanksgiving, or any time of year, there is a wonderful prayer/poem called “Prayer For The Great Family” by Gary Snyder, after a Mohawk Prayer, online or in his book “Turtle Island.” The prayer expresses gratitude to Mother Earth, Plants, Air, Wild Beings, Water, Sun, Grandfather Space, and so on.

  5. I was thinking, this helps me love you more.

  6. Much love to you dear Julia~ I think the Holidaze always make us take stock of these strange attachments/agreements and our evolution beyond them and into what and who we choose in addition to them. Always is a cornerstone for me to remember how blessed we are to include them while growing beyond them, big love to you my framily, Christie

  7. It happens so often, but it is easier to keep on following the family of origin than to have the courage to follow what our heart is telling us… In this way I see many people who choose to stay in the family standards, instead of going in search of what makes them really happy.
    Yes, when the family of origin is different from our family of choice, I think the family of choice is our real one…they lives our passions together with us, with gentleness and respect…respect for the path we choose ..
    Our family of origin sometimes just look at our “strange” and “unconventional” behaviours waiting for the day we’ll go back to family tradition….what a delusion! :) ;)

  8. Once again dear heart you reflect my inner experience, and on this topic I venture to guess it is the experience of many. How fortunate we are to be able to build community and relationships with people who fill our spirit and brighten our path. Many of us are born into families we do not match, there must be a reason. You are the sister to many, and we deeply love you.

  9. Here is the prayer Mankh mentioned.

    PRAYER FOR THE GREAT FAMILY

    Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day–
    and to her soil: rich, rare, and sweet
    in our minds so be it.

    Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing light-changing leaf
    and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind
    and rain; their dance is in the flowing spiral grain
    in our minds so be it.

    Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and the silent
    Owl at dawn. Breath of our song
    clear spirit breeze
    in our minds so be it.

    Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,
    freedoms and ways; who share with us their milk;
    self-complete, brave, and aware
    in our minds so be it.

    Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes rivers, glaciers;
    holding or releasing; streaming through all
    our bodies salty seas
    in our minds so be it.

    Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through
    trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
    bears and snakes sleep–he who wakes us–
    in our minds so be it.

    Gratitude to the Great Sky
    who holds billions of stars–and goes yet beyond that–
    beyond all powers, and thoughts
    and yet is within us–
    Grandfather Space.
    The Mind is his Wife
    so be it.

    by Gary Snyder
    after a Mohawk prayer

  10. I am so sorry that you feel alientated. I have felt that way before as well. I love you very much and you have inspired me greatly with your healing sacrifices and the love you have given freely to the world, as well as to me. It hurts me to hear that you hurt, b/c I really think that my immediate family loves you so dearly, even though we are mostly wack.

    I hope that this blog will in some way reach out to those of us that you were born with and open our eyes to you.

    I wish that I could give you a moment of the joy and excitement that I feel when I hear that Julia’s coming to visit! It has always been overwhelming happiness to be near you and your brothers and your parents. You mean a lot to us.

    I love you and whatever or whoever you love,
    Teresa

  11. Don’t worry, i love you too Teresa! i had a great time with you, Mikela, Aaron, and Valerie! Thanks for your sweet words!

  12. Families can bring stress as well as joy. Hope you have a good holiday season.

  13. This particular post moved me, Julia, as much as or more than any other you’ve written. It’s a strange feeling to be so alienated from one’s own flesh and blood, and the fact that, however misguided they may be, they are still “good people” in their own way, makes it only more painful.

    The other day my mother tried to dissuade me from my position in favor of same-sex marriage. Like so many others, she somehow believes that if a man is allowed to marry a man, or a woman is allowed to marry a woman, it somehow *nullifies* marriage between straight couples. My father died about a year-and-a-half ago, and he was married to my mother for 58 years, but the way my mom talks, you would think that her marriage would be tainted *retroactively* if gays ever get married in her state. She said that civil unions are just as good as marriage, but I of course argued that they are an inadequate substitute. Then I tried to make a distinction between “matrimony” (being wed “before God” in a church service) and “marriage” as a legal, secular concept, for which there is no constitutional basis that it must be between man and woman. She countered that argument by saying that her dictionary defined “marriage” as being between a man and a woman and I got out my own Webster’s and, sure enough, it did define “marriage” that way. (I’d like to have a word or two with Mr. Webster!) The argument ended with her calling me “ill-informed.” I assumed she was joking (she has said the opposite in the past), but I would have been really offended if I thought she was serious. Absurd, yet tragic, too. When people’s deepest fears are involved, they’ll always believe what they believe regardless of logic.

    The other day I was at a peace demo in Times Square: only about a hundred or so people showed up. The weird thing is that all the polls show that a plurality of Americans agree with us now: America should get out of Afghanistan. People were going in and out of the subway or walking down the street, ignoring us, preoccupied with their holiday shopping or just going home, and I thought: how many of them are thinking, “I don’t have to speak out against the war, because Obama’s taking care of it”? The funny thing is, I marched against the future war in Afghanistan ten days after 9/11 and again in early October 2001, the day the bombs started falling, and though we saw hecklers and people who were totally baffled by us, some bystanders gave us the thumbs-up, too. Now there’s only indifference. And of course, the peace movement gets no credit for having been right all along. I’m not sorry I went to the event, but it was dispiriting.

    I’d like to consider you part of my “framily” (although we’ve never met face to face) and I’m grateful to you for that word (which by the way isn’t in Webster’s) as well as the concept.

    David Baldwin

  14. i love you :*

  15. I spent thanksgivng with some buddist monks and we broke into singing pink floyds “wish you were here.” it was great. sorry yours was not so hot. Thanks for all the great work you do. :D

    Douglas

  16. You should not wonder why your karma allowed you to be born into that family. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be who you are today!

    All you can do is try to extend to them the unconditional love you desire. I know that can be difficult when they evoke such intense emotions.

  17. What you write is interesting, and I’ve often felt the same way about my family. But is it healthy to expect a mirror image of our own beliefs and lifestyle customs
    within our families and friends? Isn’t it healthier to not always surround ourselves with those who think, act,talk and live the same way as we do? Who might test our belief systems? Who might not always agree with us? Otherwise we create
    a sort of self-reflecting kind of cult – not a family, “framily” or anything close to it. We live in a narcissistic echo of life.

  18. a single brush stroke cannot paint a picture

  19. Your comments have resonated in my life. I also have my spiritual roots with my non-biological family. I mainly interact with my biological family during gatherings or to help them with there problems. It is amazing to me how I can unite with pure unconditional love with my freinds, patients and community: but find it very hard to do this with my given family. I wonder if it is a reflection of an old feeling of judgemnt? Whatever it is I do not enjoy spending time with them. I appreciate your honesty and insight.

  20. Hello Julia,
    The last time I seen you was about 6 years ago at the bioneers stuff in Marin. I had given you a silver butterfly broch the year before and the next year I got to talk with you a little when we ran into each other in the parking lot next to by camper on a pick-up truck. I asked you if you had cur your hair and you said yes it was getting to be to much work! Anyway I was thinking about you today Dec 19, 2009 and for whatever dam reason I just wanted to say “I Love you” and wish I could see and talk with you again some day Bruce

  21. That sounds like most of my trips “home”. I avoided going back to Louisiana for 20+ years. My “real family” is in Oregon.

    Most disapointing in Louisiana was how few of my old family and friends voted for Obama. Only 2 out of 13 old friends I saw on my trip in November. I wanted to be in Louisiana when Obama was elected. It was great to be part of the celebration, but sad that so few of the people I grew up around joined in.

    Best wishes to all for a great holiday season!

  22. Julia,
    Happy Winter Solstice! I just recently found your blog and it is great to see that you are sharing so much of yourself with so many. We met at D.C. Greenfest in ’04 and corresponded a bit over the COL years that followed. I am lucky to be blessed with a very close and enlightened biological family but still am often alienated by their much more “status-quo” lifestyles and worldviews. Also, I certainly feel the frustration and despair you articulate about America. That feeling was especially strong upon returning from a recent trip to England, the birthplace of both of my parents. I was there to attend a memorial service for my amazing Grandma, Eve Blackburn, who was Britain’s oldest and longest-serving massage therapist. She died September 18, 2009, at the age of 98, while visiting us in Virginia. She had a practice for 60 years and was still treating people just days before her death. She was the matriarch of our family, and so ahead of her time. She became a vegetarian in her 20′s, followed a Hindi guru, was a proponent of reincarnation, yoga, acupuncture, the power of positive thinking, palmistry, reflexology, and much more and was a true life-long learner, incorporating everything into her healing practice. She had the courage to be unconventional and by extension gave permission for others to do so. I am so grateful for how this shaped my parents’ and my whole family’s outlook on life. She is a huge influence on me and probably the reason I remain so in awe of strong, intelligent, passionate women like you. And so, although I mourn, Today, on this Winter Solstice, I send my prayers of gratitude to the Universe for souls such as hers and yours, Julia Butterfly. Sincerely Giving Thanks, Rich.

  23. Julia, thank you for sharing the unedited words of your true feelings on loss. i along with you and so many others struggle with the desire to spend time with Framily (love it!) over family. i am finding it is becoming more prevalent the more i discover what is true and right for me. i often find the more we integrate with all the Universe has to offer, the more we retreat from those without the desire to honor our Mothers’ Earth, and Fathers’ Sky (and everything in between and beyond). this is not to say we are in judgement of others only that we are in acknowledgement of our own personal responsibilities. rest assured, as i will, that as we walk our path alone, we are never alone! may you sustain peace in your beautiful open heart, and may your mind be at ease knowing you are being true to yourself! (and may romantic love find you when you least expect it!:)) sat.chit.ananda…. annemarie

  24. it made me sad to read this post. you’re going for honesty, but you’re trash-talking your family in public. you’re free to speak however you will, but you show less love and acceptance for your birth family and more love for a disposable plate. taking care of the planet is important, but dealing with tenuous ties of blood family can be one of the hardest existential/spiritual lessons too. — the ones who are closest to us by blood is almost like dealing with an extension of ourselves–an attached arm or a leg. i thought your post was sad because of how severely you detach from them. aren’t we all one? where’s the equanimity for blood family or framily? I share many, many views as you– but I try so hard to embrace the mainstream too. I feel I’m needed more there. If we made the mainstream “the other” and only promoted “alternative” views, it just breeds an “us against them mentality” and that makes unity that much harder– why continue preaching to the choir??? i believe that we don’t all have to all believe the exact same things and share the same lifestyle to be family. my biological family and i are very diverse too, i had to grow up a lot to not pick fights with them and vice versa. self/blood family/framily/greater society/the planet– I look at it all as microcosm/macrocosm. you can’t choose one over the other. it’s like picking your finger but not your toe.

  25. “Yearofthe boring” You certainly have an interesting way of viewing what i wrote. i very specifically said in the post, i love my family and i know they love me. Maybe try reading it again and this time read it all.

  26. Hello there, I see and read your post here, I really enjoy with your opinion, nice idea

  27. the world will never be hopeless as long as there are people like you, julia, a beautiful connecting light in a broken place.
    honesty and openness break down the walls that keep us all apart so I pray you will keep your genuine beautiful light shining brightly and hope that even those furthest away from it will someday come a little closer…

  28. Nice! Thanks for sharing.

  29. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear you’re not the only one :) All the best Julia!

  30. Zi, i am so glad, ; )

    Love,

    julia

  31. C PInkola Estes says that blood is not resonance..and in this essay you are speaking about holidays being a time to connect with resonance, get filled up rather than drained, connected to the whole rather than fractured…thanks for writing this essay. It speaks to my heart and experience in so so many many ways…it also makes me think about how obligation and love intersect and inform each other in families of any kind…

  32. James Young wrote:

    “It is amazing to me how I can unite with pure unconditional love with my freinds, patients and community: but find it very hard to do this with my given family.”

    That sums it up pretty nicely for me. Who is more likely to inflict emotional (or even physical) wounds on us? Friends or family? It makes the wound that much more unforgivable or “tenuous” because it comes from a member of our life that should be treating us like “family”.

    Addressing / resolving those wounds can become a life long endeavor – if they fester unaddressed or are resented, I wonder if we re-send that pain forward. I wonder if reconciliation / love of family of origin serves as a kind of measuring stick for our own evolution – an opportunity to test our capacity to love and forgive.

    Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and perspective.

  33. dear julia
    i am a middle school student in nevada city california and i am doing a report on you
    u are very inspiring and i loved your book!
    i would love to know more about you so i can put more details into my report
    thank you so much
    love kiala

  34. Hi Kiala,

    Thanks for your kind and supportive words.

    You can find tons of information on my old website http://www.circleoflife.org and also on Wikipedia.

    Lots of Love and all the very best on your report!!!

    Love,

    julia


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