No matter what you observe: Ramadan, Kwaanza, Chanukah, Solstice or Christmas, this is a celebratory time of year, and most of us are thinking of family, whether they’re near or far. My family is somehow both, since I lost all my aunts and uncles and my father before I was 18. They are all very near and dear to my heart, yet also gone. At this time of year, I long for family, and so I’ve created several of my own. There’s my husband, Richard, of course—he’s the center, closest to me every day. Friend and partner, lover and helpmate—sharing life and love that deepens every day.

Then, there are the sisters and brothers of my heart. Maggie and I met in 1968, when I became her supervisor in a corporate accounting department. Three days after I arrived, she said to me “You are the weirdest person I have ever met.” I responded “Thank you, Maggie” and we’ve been friends ever since. We were “Best Woman” at each others’ weddings, I am godmother to her daughter, Amanda, now 18, who introduces me to everyone as “This is my Mom’s best friend.” Maggie’s Jewish, yet we have celebrated a special family Christmas together for many years.

A toast to you, Maggie, for being my sister/friend, through all of life’s ups and downs. And to my chosen family, in (more or less) alphabetical order: Isadora Alman, Victoria Bryan and Carrie Williams, Sylvia and Glen McWilliams, Bill and Joan Mueller, and Rhoda and Riley K. Smith. Then there’s my in-law family, including Mitch Tannen, Jackie Chin, Maria and Lee Ruiz. All of you really know what friends are for, and I am
surrounded by love, laughter and caring because of you.

There’s a spiritual family — Rev. Mary Ellen Kilsby, Rev. Jane Stormont Galloway, Rev. Denton Roberts and Rev Frank Halse, and many other people who share faith.

A publishing family — my dynamic agent, Laurie Harper, and many fellow writers, most of whom are members of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Over the more than 20 years I’ve been writing, I’ve made connections with writers, publishers, editors and PR people like editor/writer Richard F.X. O’Connor who have become more than just business associates.

There’s even a neighborhood family. On my little street, neighbors say “hello” and help each other out. Beverly Terfloth has comforted me with tea and sympathy at the Vintage Tea Leaf, and Cindy Cyr and the staff provide warmth and a smile at The Coffee Cup, my other writer’s hangout.

“The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved”, wrote Victor Hugo. He knew there are more kinds of love than romance and marriage. No matter what is happening in your romantic life, the solid presence of good friends and family can lift your spirits, fill your days, and give you the support you need for your romantic relationship.

“Friendship is a strategy for personal growth; it involves a commitment to endure with each other and to make our lives and the world better through keeping each other healthily human and effectively knowing,” wrote therapist John Hoff. “Relationships are our most precious resource.”

“As creative children,” writes Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way, “we are each of us not only instruments but also a note, even a song. When we open our hearts and sing to and with one another, we quite literally create harmony.”

Not only does it take a “village” (community) to raise a child, but in our mobile and fast-paced society, a sense of community, family and connectedness helps us to function more effectively as adults in all phases of life. “We are creatures of community,” writes Dr. Dean Ornish in Love and Survival, “Those individuals, societies, and cultures who learned to take care of each other, to love each other, and to nurture relationships with each other during the past several hundred thousand years were more likely to survive than those who did not… In short, anything that promotes a sense of isolation often leads to illness and suffering. Anything that promotes a sense of love and intimacy, connection and community is healing.”

You can create various networks (families) of friends to bring that harmony into your life.
• Your chosen family—Warm friend provide a cushion and a shield in life’s difficult times ó someone to talk to when you need support or advice, and to celebrate your triumphs with you. It’s a great blessing to be surrounded by a trusted and trustworthy group of friends who make your life’s journeys with you, and know exactly how far you’ve come.
• Your neighborhood family—Friendly neighbors make your neighborhood, your apartment building or condo complex, your block safer. Their watchfulness will protect you against vandalism and other problems. Know your neighbors and they will call 911 for you, or watch your children, take package deliveries, or feed your pets.
• Your family of origin—Family is the network we turn to first in times of need, and to share the good times, too. If your family has drifted apart, try building a partial family network with those you like or who live close by, and soon other family members could be drawn closer.
• Your fun family. These people enjoy the things you like to do. Families who want to do parent/child activities, or fellow single people who share your weekends and holidays. Or couples who join you for fun times. Parents of similar-age children can share car-pooling, baby-sitting, information and support.

By creating family feelings in several areas of your life, you’ll have the joy of the give and take of friendship, anytime you want. As you look back on your life, you are likely to feel best about the good things you did for others and the positive contributions you have made to your friends and family. Perhaps life will present you with an opportunity to give back to friends. Being there in times of need, helping out in times of illness or bereavement, or just being a sympathetic listener when a friend is stressed can be more valuable to them than you imagine. You’ll create blessings for yourself when you share your rituals, holidays, laughter and information. Welcome friends who are alone into your family’ s good times. With these “chosen families” you can offer comfort in life’s difficult times, and be a willing participant in celebrating successes. Everything you give will come back to you multiplied. In the spirit of peace and love, I wish you the joy of connection.
(adapted from The TenSmartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty)
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