After Mass on Sunday, New Man and I went to visit a very dear friend of mine. This was the first time New Man had met her, and the two of them sat for a while discussing me - always fun to listen to! Anyway, my friend is Nigerian, and the greatest compliment she had was actually for my family - she talked about how close-knit my family is, how we will all drop everything just to be together and will always help each other, show an interest in each other's lives and get to know each other's friends. In fact, she said, we're such a close and loving family, you'd almost think we were African - high praise indeed.
Over the next two weeks, my parents will be visiting one of my brothers in the US, I'll be visiting another brother in South Africa, my youngest sister will be coming back from her travels in Europe and will probably end up living in my house for a while, I'll be spending two days babysitting my nieces before leaving for South Africa, and numerous e-mails, phone calls and text messages will be exchanged around the family. We'll also be celebrating the birthdays of one of my brothers, one of my nephews and two of my nieces and the baptism of another of my nephews. There's never a dull moment in a family like ours.
And the thing is, a loving family can't help attracting more people to it. When my Nigerian friend lost her own father, she adopted mine. Several other friends of various members of the family have unofficially adopted one or other or both of my parents.
When each of us has married, the entire family of the spouse has been absorbed as well. So tonight I had dinner with my sister-in-law's two sisters, and whenever I'm in the US I see or speak to my other sister-in-law's siblings. And over the course of dinner, I took a phone call from a godson of my father's (no blood relation), who is going through a hard time and phoned to talk through it with me.
The greatest gift that you get from being part of a large, loving family is the knowledge that there's always room for one more person, and always time for one more person, and that making that room and giving that time is one of the most important things you can do. Being part of a large family teaches you that any investment in a relationship will be rewarded a thousand times over, and that people and relationships are more important than money and power.
I'm exhausted tonight. I taught all day, then rushed home to give the house a quick clean and cook a special meal. As soon as we sat down to eat, the phone rang, and by the time I got off the phone, my food was cold and everyone else had finished - but they enjoyed the meal, had a good time, and appreciated why I needed to take the call and not put him off till a more convenient time. Despite everything, I've had a satisfying evening, and I feel truly blessed. I love my extended 'African' family.