May 14, 2008
By Elizabeth Manzella, Crozet, VA

Some time ago, I was asked to describe what I believed was my earliest memory. As I rummaged through the cloudy snapshots of the past in the recesses of my memory, I came upon one that piqued my interest: snowdrifts. They were the fluffiest, frothiest, most mountainous snowdrifts I can recall, and two hands were holding my tinier hands above my head, pulling me up and keeping me from sinking into those white depths. The amazing thing is that years after my mother and father held my hands, they’re still holding me up. So is my entire warm, sometimes dysfunctional family. That’s what family does; it is a lifeline keeping us from falling, or a cushion upon which to fall. Liberal, conservative, atheist, evangelical, Leave it to Beaver tight-knit, or divorced, our families are our anchors.

I’ve often been mocked for my close relationship with my own family. However, nobody can accuse my relatives of being flawless. My mother’s eccentric German parents have been divorced for thirty years, but since my grandfather married his exotically beautiful but insecure Brazilian second wife twenty years ago, he refuses to speak to my grandmother. Then there’s my father’s sister, my wonderful Aunt Laurie, who still lives with my grandparents, is hilariously obsessive compulsive, and is still the youthful, sports-adoring tomboy she’s always been. My Aunt Cathy is a near-penniless, science fiction-reading hippie. My parents are staunch conservatives who still love George Bush. I carry pieces of all of these characters. At Christmas, when I sit with them all for the savory feast I can expect every year, I know that despite their differences, any one of them would die for me.

I know others who are not so lucky to have the connection with their families that I have. My childhood friend, Isabelle, hates her parents with an immutable ferocity, falsely believing that they do not love her as much as her overachieving elder sisters. Living in the progressive Charlottesville, Virginia area, I have grown accustomed to witnessing children whose apathetic parents allow them to live the freedom-filled lives of college students when they are as young as twelve. No wonder these people hate their families; deep inside, whether they’d like to believe it or not, they probably feel abandoned by them. The breakdown of families has caused teens to look to Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton as idols, and to envy their fabulous, “crazy” lives. Unfortunately, I believe that sacrificing our families’ wanted or unwanted limits only plunges our society into a bleak future in which we all must stand alone. I do not believe that we are meant to, or emotionally can bear to, stand alone.

Looking in the mirror, I can see parts of my family in my blonde, Germanic hair and my expressive, Italian nose. But family goes beyond appearances to the regions inside our hearts. I believe that being pro-family is accepting our families for what they are, and allowing them to provide stability by accepting their love. We cannot replace them, after all. No matter what failures family members have as individuals, they hold us up as a unit. I believe they always will if we let them.

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