What Holds Us Together
My mom and brother both got married this summer. A second marriage for my mom, in the beautiful mountains of Colorado; a lovely outdoor ceremony for my brother, with just a touch of the melodrama required of a couple who met and bonded over a mutual interest in science fiction epics and theatre. Sharing two weddings with my sprawling and increasingly diverse family has given me a richness of time to sit with the question of what it is that keeps us together, and why it works.
We cover the spectrum by now, my siblings and our families: gun-loving hunting enthusiasts, feminists, counselors, spiritual directors, members of the LGBTQ community, Republicans, Democrats, Mormons, atheists, evangelicals and everything in-between. When we gather, I marvel at the mini-miracle that is this microcosm of America —able to come together, fall apart, come together again, and go home still loving each other.
It’s not always easy, of course, but when struggles arise, when hurtful things are said by accident or someone unwittingly steps on someone else’s toes, we keep talking. When beliefs and lifestyles are shared which challenge the comfort of others, we keep listening. We continue to share our story, and listen with open curiosity to the stories of others. We engage with each other’s lives, because in our deepest souls we believe that these relationships matter.
There is no way to say “I’m sorry” in Cherokee, nor is there a word for “love”. If you are loved by someone, my language teacher says, they will show you. There’s no need to use words. We have a phrase in Cherokee—phonetically it is “de tsa da hli yv se s di”—which loosely translates to “Y’all cling to each other.” Cling, my teacher says, as if what you have is worth fighting to the death to keep. A dog, fighting to protect the children it loves, may die in the fight but will never give up. If we value one another with that fierce love, we will have no need for apologies.
U.S. Congressman Rep. Joe Kennedy recently spoke at The Summit, Sojourners' annual gathering of faith and justice leaders. In his remarks, he shared what he believes lies at the heart of the Christian faith: “The belief that we are all worthy, we are all equal, we all count.”” We are all, according to the Bible, sons and daughters of God.
When I ponder what it is that keeps my family together, that allows us to go home at the end of the day with love in our hearts for each other, it is this same principle. The belief that we—each parent and sibling, each spouse and child—are family. Each of us is worth clinging to, is worth fighting for. Our differences are pregnant with the potential for division. Should we choose to let go of our belief in the value of one another—should we cease to cling to one another—we could easily splinter apart. But we chose to remember. We choose to love.
Tessi Muskrat Rickabaugh is a graduate of Shalem Institute’s spiritual guidance program and an interpreter for the deaf with Access Intrepreters LLC and the University of Missouri. A child of the Ozarks, she makes her home in Fulton, Missouri, USA, where she offers spiritual direction in person and online in English and ASL (for deaf seekers). A Native woman of Cherokee and Irish descent, Tessi engages her heritage as a member of the Long Hair Clan by curating The Barefoot Journey, an online community of people who foster peace and openness toward self and others through engaging the raw beauty of story. Find her writng at TheBarefootAuthor.com .