Stories by which we know ourselves

I apologise for being late in delivering my blog this week. I have had a rather disjointed but lovely past few days because my brother came home from Australia with his wife to celebrate his 65th birthday.

My brother went to Australia when he was only 17. We then didn’t see him for thirty years as he established his life out there and brought up his family. When he came back for the first time it was very odd. The whole family turned out to meet him at London Airport and although we recognised him when he came through the barrier, we also didn’t recognise him. Who was this leathery-skinned man with grey hair and an accent you could cut with a knife? What was wrong with his eyebrow – oh, yes, that was where he had had an accident? The mask this man wore seemed to cut me off from the brother I remembered. And then there was a moment when his eyes twinkled and suddenly I saw him. His eyes were the same, strikingly blue, full of laughter. There was my brother and the years rolled away.

Since his first journey home he has come back several times but only about once every five years and due to his work as a farmer, only for very short breaks each time. These intermittent visit have made me aware of how, if you leave home at an early age, certain family myths and stories get fixed in a way they don’t if you remain at home. I do not know if my family is like others but there were certain ancestors and living people too, who were cast in the role of saint or sinner as were growing up. I remember realising in my twenties that in my heart I was condemning people I had never known, without understanding their side of the story. Because family members who can get together, share these family stories as they mature, and if things are healthy, the edges of negative criticism become softer. We realise as we share that other may see things differently and that their view point is just as valid as our own. We take into consideration that times change and that what was, for example, perfectly acceptable behaviour in the first half of the 20th Century is not in the 21st.

More than anything, if you are a Christian, hopefully you begin to see that whatever the ills of the past, and what so and so is said to have done to so and so, we are all both saint and sinner. Each one of us has done something that another family member might point out as being, unjust, unkind, negligent or even just thoughtless. All of us need forgiveness.

And that is one of the reasons why it is important that families continue to share the stories and do not let them become stuck in aspic. Even though my brother has had infinitely less opportunity to do this – and it shows – in the few visits home he has made, we have shared and he has softened towards one or two people. All families need healing and sharing family stories with that sense that, “I, too, have failed others,” is a good way of opening up our hearts and minds to all these people in the past, who probably, for the most part, did their best.