Family. How do you define it? What is it exactly? Some say family is blood. That would be your mom, dad, brothers, sisters, etc. But what about your spouse and the spouse of your mom's sister or dad's brother? Are they family? What if your parents divorce and remarry? Are the step-parents family? Don't forget step-sisters and half-brothers that come along? Are they family? I would say yes to all. Let's expand our definition then to people related by blood or marriage. Oh, wait! What about adopted children? Are they family? Again, I say yes! Another expansion of our definition leads me to people related by blood, marriage, or court order.
Not too bad, but I hate to say that still doesn't cover it all. I mean there are still people we call family who don't meet that definition. We have friends of our parents we call aunts and uncles. We have our own friends who become our sisters and brothers. It takes time to form those relationships.
We don't just meet someone and decide they are family. Well, at least I don't. Ever. I am private and don't do well with new people. I stay quiet and try to be invisible. Always. Until this summer. Then, my take-it-slow-and-hide personality hit a bump in the road that made me change my outlook on family, and I am so grateful for it!
That bump is the Wyoming Writing Project (WWP). We first met in Casper at the beginning of June. Being in a room with people I didn't know and a few whom I had met previously but didn't really know was a challenge for me. I didn't know what to expect from WWP and that in and of itself was overwhelming. I am a planner and need to know exactly what to expect to ease my anxiety. Thankfully, there was a schedule but I was still definitely out of my comfort zone. As the night and next day progressed, I was feeling better. When we met again ten days later, I was still leery, but doing more sharing and talking. By the next week, I couldn't stay quiet. Our final time as a group was hard because I knew it was about to end and I would have to say good-bye to my new family.
Wait! What? Family takes time to build, not less than eight days of time together! How did this happen? How did eight perfect strangers and four people I had seen twice become family in such a short time? Writing. Yes, you read that correctly: Writing changed me.
These amazing people accepted me as I am. They encouraged and pushed me to do more than I ever have before in writing. When I was most worried about if my projects were meeting expectations, they held my hands and guided me. They also pulled me through the rushing rapids of self-doubt and helped me to the other side where I could feel free and accomplished. I was able to play with my writing and never feel like a failure. I wrote poetry, personal narratives, and historical fiction with some romance thrown in for fun. I wrote about my students and my old dog who left scars on my heart. I wrote about my past and worries of the present. I never felt judged or less than a human when I shared these. Why? Because these other writers were there with me, in the trenches, shaking the dust. We laughed and cried together. We wrote, talked, and ate together. We shared writings that were personal and heart wrenching. We shared stories that left us wanting more. We grew as a community of writers and became family.
My new definition of family is this: Family is a group of people who are together for a reason and have a relationship that is accepting, encouraging, and loving. Family blesses, presses, and addresses. Family waits for you to become the person you never knew you could be.
Thank you, WWP! I will never be the same and am grateful to call you family.