I have a cousin who is a traveling nurse and has been living in Hawaii for the last few months. Her life is reeeaaaaally tough. (That last sentence is covered in sarcasm.) She shared a saying there that I found inspiring and fitting as I sat down to write this post: ‘Aloha ‘aina, which literally means ‘love of the land.’ Her new native friend unpacked its deeper meaning a bit more to explain the culture she was immersing herself in. She learned that Hawaiins greatly value their surroundings, the nature in which they live, and the land they intimately know through considerable powers of observation. The land is very much a part of their identity. One article I found said, “The respectable person was bound affectionately to the land by which he was physically and spiritually sustained.” (read the article here.) So in its deepest meaning, this phrase ‘aloha ‘aina, is “that which feeds”; it feeds your stomach (‘opu), your spirit (‘uhane), and your mana (the power of the life source in you). One might say that ‘aloha ‘aina is a place where you feel instinctively is where you belong.
I think the fact that Hawaiins hold land so sacred to their hearts and identities is wondrous. I wish I had that kind of knowledge and bond with a land….currently, I feel very much like a nomad as I have yet to settle down in one place.
What I know with great vigor and heart is who I am through the families I am a part of. I think I belong to 3 families. One of the sharing genes type and two of the conglomerate, yet homogeneous type:
My nuclear family, my heritage, the people who passed on their DNA to me, those sisters/brothers/parents/cousins/etc that I didn’t get to choose (but love very much in a way that makes no sense at all when I try to reason it out).
My parents are one of a kind. Swim coach and swimmer. Beach lifeguard met Pocono skiing goddess. Dad is charismatic, sensitive, and a sucker for tears from any one of his kids. He is so smart and has such a heart for helping out friends who are down on their luck. Mom is outstandingly wise. I don’t understand how she became such a great Mom but jeez….I really hope I’m on my way towards half the grace and calming attitude she’s got.
My siblings and I are so similar, and so, so different. And we all seem to have latched on to our heritage and our extended families in different ways. For a long time throughout my adolescence, I connected to my dad’s side of the family the most. I felt like I looked like them the most….the Spanish features and the skinny, lanky build. I loved hearing about the romance that brought my grandparents, great grandparents, and distant relatives together. They had the most unexpected, comical meet-cutes I could imagine.
It’s two of my cousin’s on my Mom’s side that have stolen my heart in the last 4 years in particular. These two blonde boys are charismatic, idolize my brother, have sharp wits, and snuggle so affectionately. I took care of them for an overnighter recently and I realized that this is the last season the oldest one can snuggle in with me at night. He’s going to be too old for that soon and I am going to miss it greatly. The way he throws a scrawny leg over mine when he rolls over or how he wakes up and snuggles in closer telling me about a dream he had….there’s nothing like that kind of love from a child. If I ever have kids….I hope they’ve got the essence of what these little blondies have.
Belonging to this family has given me a great desire to work through tough times in relationships. I think the patience I have was also taught to me by this group.
The “home-away-from-home” family.
This transient family has been there by choice. For the most formative years of my life, they have provided solace, many home-cooked meals (Southern style), ridiculous amounts of cookie dough when emotionally charged, countless conversations and studies into faith and spiritual well-being, and so many opportunities to de-stress. They have probably been the family that has opened the gate to invite me to make my beliefs my own the most; what my beliefs mean to me, what I stand for, and how I come to my own opinions. I probably didn’t take any traditional routes offered but they were always there for me when I wanted or needed to check in with them, ask a question, or grapple over some new found realization.
I moved farther away from them in the last two years, geographically and relationally. I became part of another community that healed in a way that was different than theirs. Theirs wasn’t wrong at all — simply not the puzzle piece that fit physically or time-wise. Their purpose in my life also shifted a bit. I was no longer a student where they lived and worked. And yet, I don’t think the love for them or their love for me diminished even a tiny bit. Recently, I felt anguish over how far apart we have been. Even though I gained a third family, it could never replace their role in my life and how much I cherished them. When I shared this, they said, “What matters is that you know your way back here.”
I think this is what home and family is. A place you know your way back to. Oh, how much I value this.
What I really love about my Sangha/tango family is ….
They have taught me how to really listen to people and how to make others feel as valued and important as I genuinely feel they are. Today, it’s not bizarre at all to text someone while you are in a conversation with someone else. Or to pick up a phone call while you are spending time with someone else. Even if it is trivial….grabbing coffee, stopping by to drop off a borrowed item, or taking the dog for a walk together…this family supports, listens, and drops everything to give you their undivided attention.
Because of this authentic nurturing, it’s easier to call one another out on our silliness, or when we are losing our cool, or when we could be considering the consequences first. Personally, having that foundation of listening and taking the time to put others first makes receiving the “heads up” on my own behavior much more welcome. If I’m about to do something utterly foolish or damaging, I know that this family will call it out and be there whether or not I choose to make my own mistakes. Love really is a verb for these guys.
These families, this life, all this love….is so good. ‘Aloha ‘aina.