September 28, 2007

Nichols family-by-choice reunion

John Nichols and his "big sister" (Atlanta, GA)
    Unless you have heard me gushing about Stella, my spiritual mother of decades, you wouldn’t understand why John introduced me to his Atlanta friend as “my big sister.” Looking at our faces (shown in the photo), you’d wonder, how? What’s up with that?

Simple. In the late 1960s, when I launched my first career as an early childhood educator, in Cambridge, MA, I met John, his ten siblings, and their parents. And I immediately claimed them as mine. Since then, neither time, nor distance, life, nor death has changed our relationship status. So, of course, I rearranged my schedule on short notice to catch up with this brother-visitor in town from Hawaii. John is on an east coast tour seeking galleries, institutions, festivals, and marketplaces to show his art.

John's youngest sibling, Karen, was among my first beautiful and brilliant Head Start students. When Karen, age six, arrived the first day of school with her slightly older sisters Esther and Linda, their expressions read: "What kind of place is this? Who is this child-woman who calls herself teacher?" Today, Karen, who earned a degree in education from Gallaudet College where she met, then married a fellow student from Nigeria (now, a professor at their alma mater) is mom to three great kids.

John's elder sister, firstborn Esther, raised her family in their childhood Cambridge home after their parents, Joe and Stella Nichols, sold it and retired to Mashpee, on Cape Cod.

Joe and Stella Nichols, in their Cape Cod garden, spring 2004
Today, at age 87, Joe continues a lifetime of gardening, fishing, keeping bees, preparing meals (and sharing them with neighbors and guests,) visiting shut-ins and nursing home residents, ministering to his flock, mentoring new church leadership, and welcoming family, friends, and seekers of his light.

(The night before Yom Kippur we spoke, among other topics, about Unetaneh Tokef. I had been studying this prayer in the High Holy Day liturgy, and Joe asked me to read it aloud. We spoke our usual brief time — more than an hour, and only ending the call because of my bedtime!)

Stella, the woman whom I called "Inspiration" since our meeting that first Head Start year for Karen and for me, died 21 months ago, at age 83. She remains a tree of life — many roots, many branches: my beloved surrogate parent, adored sister, treasured friend — a total force for good.

Family. Bloodlines is one way to be family. Marriage confers family status, too. And, there is family of choice, the one we populate with people whom we claim and who claim us. It is so simple to accomplish. Reach across artificial divides. Remain open. And, only connect.

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2 comments:

Blogging Molly said...

I love the saying "Friends are the family you choose". Even my small children understand this extension and have started calling my friend's children "cousins". Thank you for sharing your family and the reminder to connect.

Tamar Orvell said...

My friend's first grader slept over his best friend's house Saturday night. I asked him Sunday morning, what was the best part of being with your friend? He replied instantly: playing brothers.

Thanks, Molly, for visiting Only Connect!