Sunday, October 18, 2009

Last night, I heard from my mom that my second cousin was in a bad car accident. In addition to feeling terribly that I was so far away and could do nothing to help the family out, I thought about family and how different it is in the States and in Egypt. My second cousin, who's going to be ok, is someone I've only spent time with on a handful of occasions. I care about her because she's my second cousin, but more by proxy because I am close to her grandmother (my grandmother's sister) and her aunt (my mom's first cousin). My great-aunt became like a surrogate grandma when my own grandma died and my mom's cousin has always been around since I was little.
If we were an Egyptian family, we would without a doubt be much closer. The importance of the extended family is one of the things I envy about Egyptian culture. I'm close with only a few of my second cousins and see my paternal first cousins only a few times a year. My friend Marise, on the other hand, lives in the family building. All the floors are or were at one time occupied by relatives. Marise is constantly going to the weddings of extended family members and talking to her cousins on the phone daily or spending time with them in person. She has "aunts" and "uncles" who are first cousins once-removed with whom she dines regularly and who look after her well-being.
I realize that there's also a stifling element to the Egyptian family, many more expectations, opinions about your choices and behavior being offered, unsolicited, all the time, more obligations, and so on. And I also realize that there's something that seems arbitrary about being loyal to people just because of blood ties. I value the diversity of our social spheres in the US and that we rely on friends who like us because of who we are rather than shared genes, but there's some primordial draw to family closeness that I feel. I've always regretted that. Getting into genealogy and seeking family stories from older family members has resulted in closer relationships with many of my great-aunts and -uncles and other relatives. Valuing that and knowing that's not the norm has, in a rare instance, made me jealous of Egyptians.
All that said, those of you that pray, please keep my second cousin and her sisters, mom, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandma in your prayers.

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