The Globalization of Family

RAWALPINDI, PakistanEnraged crowds rioted across Pakistan and hopes for democracy hung by a thread after Benazir Bhutto was gunned down Thursday as she waved to supporters from the sunroof of her armored vehicle.

The news came just as Michael and I were in cleaning mode — Kelly, Brian and the kids would be here any time and CNN was on in the background. The story was updated — the last photo before she was shot displayed — appropriate experts were consulted (Guiliani???), I believed she was pro democracy and I’m not so sure that the corporate interests that support her incumbent opponent are. After all, Pakistan is a major go-to place for cheap labor for the war profiteers.

Meantime, the van full of Weists arrives. Excited hugs, stories about what Santa brought, how long the drive from D.C. and who gets the bathroom first. In between cold drinks and family talk, the Bhutto story stays on in the background. Even after CNN is replaced by the Wii for a couple of quick bowling games, the grownups continue to talk about the former prime minister’s rise in power, who was most corrupt, the failure of the incumbent to provide protection. We watch as each pundit warns of new dangers in our neighborhoods on the flip side of the world due to her assassination. In my neighborhood? The only Pakistani I know I bought milk from that very morning and he seems a most pleasant man. Recent arrival. We laughed because neither of us could figure out the price of a pack of gum and I agreed to come back later, thereby negotiating an on the spot chewing gum deferment.
What news did people greet one another with before the news was globalized? Did we only have Aunt Mildred’s operation and Cousin Jack’s infidelities to jabber about as the guests settled in? Seasoned of course with pinches of weather and travel times. Instant access to global news has not only impacted how we do business, it’s changed the way we welcome one another, “Did you hear . . .?”

It’s possible such disconnected greetings may not be all bad — being met with “Oh, I guess you really have put on weight,” as my tactless father said to me one time reaching out to pat my belly and plummeting my precarious self esteem and 8 years of therapy to that scary place in the basement populated by dragons, where the furnace growls and the water tank spits fire. It took weeks and another full year of therapy to drag myself up from that darkness. And then there was the time he arrived apparently having bragged up my haphazard housekeeping to his fiance Baby Blue Betty for the whole trip. From Florida to Ohio, that’s a long damned trip. Unfortunately his final climactic revelation was to be whipping open my front door to my home’s usually chaos. But this visit coincided quite nicely with my introduction to Mighty Maids.
When Dad, who was a Grand Master of I Told You So, discovered there was no evidence to back up his case (the Mighty Maids had even sorted out my silverware drawer, a final disappointment), he shrunk down into my too soft sofa, glowering, without even taking off his hat, Baby Blue sitting beside him like a cheer leader at half time and me wondering if I could still find my spoons in those neat little stacks. Dad’s planned conversation starter foiled, the three of us sat staring uncomfortably at the heightened patina of the freshly excavated coffee table. An assassination might have come in handy in that case, and it’s entirely possible one or more was contemplated. It was 20 years ago, who remembers these things.

But this case is different. We all like each other. I want to know everything that is happening in their world, with the stuttered, word twists unique to 2-4-8 year olds. Then we can talk about the business of the rest of the planet.
So, two things to remember: I intend to become quicker on that red button on the remote when family pulls in the drive, I also have to be conscious that family news (Thomas’ latest new word, Danny’s domination in video bowling and Ben’s latest achievements on his basketball team) gets its due. More than equal billing with the global news. Family always deserves premium space.
And an always reminder that in the midst of any crisis — be that a remote tragedy as today’s, a health crisis, or economic crisis – – it is the store of moments of undistracted joy we absorb through family connections that will steady us all.

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