My friends tease that I’m related to everyone in Atlanta. What is true is that I am “the baby” of my immediate family of two brothers and two sisters. We are rather spread out: by the time I was born, my oldest sister was nearly college-age. While some of us had traveled together through the years, it occurred to me that we had never all been on the same trip when we boarded the same airplane two years ago to go to a cousin’s wedding in Maine. (In hindsight, we probably should have split up on different flights.) The trip was a success and we agreed to get together each year.
One of the things about my big family is when we get together, we often only have time for small-talk. When we planned this year’s annual weekend together for August, I was interested in finding a tool to break down the normal barriers.
In July, I ventured into and was incredibly surprised by the premiere of a locally produced film. As the 90-minute film rolled along, I realized the experience of watching “The Journey” is similar to my life: It isn’t filmed particularly well, the sound is rough in spots, the plot is unpredictable and isn’t even laid out in a logical sequence. Then I began to listen for the pearls of wisdom hidden amidst its rocky scenes. And there were many.
After I emerged from the theatre, I had one urge: to ensure my family saw this film together. I wasn’t sure why, but I had a hunch that if anything could hot-wire an emotional reaction from my siblings, The Journey might be it. I was right.
After a glass or two of wine, we all sat down to view it. They laughed, they listened and some cried. As we prepared dinner, each one pulled me aside to share a significant emotion the film had triggered. At the table, instead of the normal banter, I asked each person, including in-laws, to share the thoughts they had quietly told me. For my family, this led to the most significant discussion we’ve ever had.
One sister said she realized her grandmother was the only family member she felt had ever really connected with her and she lamented she didn’t have such a relationship yet with her own grandchildren. A brother lamented that he had let issues prevent him from sharing his appreciation with our dad before his death seven years ago. One questioned why her approach to her son was so restrictive and why she didn’t appreciate his novel nature. She realized it was because that was how she was raised. Another feared for a grandchild’s self-esteem as he exposed his sensitive nature to his “macho” world. My mom was suddenly struck by never having told her long-deceased mother thanks for all the unappreciated sacrifices she had made when trying to raise three daughters during very, very tough times.
For me, I learned that, despite my nature to hide in tough times, it is okay to ask others for help when I need it. I also reaffirmed that, in the end, being a good father, manager, lover or friend is more about listening than lecturing. I need to listen more. That night at dinner, when I did listen, I could not believe the stories I heard.
Soon, it was time to clean up the dishes and call it a night. As we wandered off to bed and even when we have reconvened since, my family returned to our normal ways of relating. Yet something is slightly altered. For we have opened up and shared a deep fear or regret with our group and now, having shared that, we will are able to reconnect on a deeper level as the happy and sad scenes are written into our individual journeys.