Monday, October 24, 2011

Family: Hakuna Matata

The importance of family has been pressing on my mind for the past year. First it was an awareness (of its importance), then a desire (for stronger family relationships). This summer gave me the tools to accomplish the task, and this fall I've been putting them to use.

Applying these desires and newfound abilities to my immediate family while living long-distance has been one challenge. This past weekend I was faced with another challenge: to apply them to my relationships with my extended family, to whom I now live significantly closer.

You see, I've grown a lot in college... Before college, I felt like an awkward, low-self-esteem nobody that needed catering-to because I couldn't make a significant, valuable contribution and feel included in groups based on my own merits. My best friends and my immediate family were the only two groups that I usually felt secure in. I often felt majorly disappointed with myself for my lack of fitting-in with extended family; I attribute this problem to 1) expectant self-fulfilling prophecy and 2) lack of depth in the relationships, because I only saw my cousins once a year. I felt like I ought to have actual friendships with my family members, and I was jealous of both sides of my family, because my cousins saw each other and my grandparents so frequently; I yearned to have that close, loving bond that they all seemed to have with each other - to feel like I actually belonged in more than just name.

Moving to the state where I have the highest concentration of relatives provided a lot of opportunities that I never had before. That was SCARY. But, I'm a firm believer in the philosophy that you miss all the chances that you never take. So I went to family dinners and attended some family celebrations for the first time in my life. Sometimes I called my mom in tears because I felt so lonely and out of place there. But I felt like I was where I should be; nothing would change if I left things as they were. Slowly, I started feeling more and more like I had a place in these gatherings.

I looked toward this past weekend with a little trepidation. I'd made some progress over time, but I had a new test in seeing some cousins my age whom I hadn't seen in 2-3 years. I also hadn't seen my grandma and many other cousins in over a year. Even though I was excited to go, the old worries of being an unwanted, awkward burden again swam slowly in circles beneath the surface of my consciousness.

I ended up having a wonderful weekend! Friday I slept in, spent a lot of time reading, and went to the high school's musical to see my cousin play in the orchestra pit. Saturday morning I got up early to go to the temple with my cousins, and then we spent most of the day boating on a lake! Saturday night was spent chatting and playing card games with the aunts, uncles and other adult cousins. Sunday we went to two different wards to hear a couple cousins speak in sacrament meeting, and had a family lunch afterwards. Following lunch, we went to see my grandpa's headstone in the cemetery. I had a few hard moments, like when looking through old photo albums or thinking about my grandpa, but the principle of getting busy and distracted helped move me through. I treasured the moments where I felt like we were establishing mutual, connective bonds, and it's always a ball after the little kids decide that you've become friends. I had a really enjoyable time and I feel like I made really constructive gains in my relationships with extended family. I felt significantly more like I do, in fact, belong to them.

The principle that I want to draw from this experience prompted the title "Hakuna Matata". A prominent theme in the classic Disney movie The Lion King, the idea is introduced as "a meerkat and a warthog, named Timon and Pumbaa respectively, teach the main character, a lion cub named Simba, that he should forget his troubled past and live in the present," which is represented in the Swahili phrase "hakuna matata" (literally meaning, "no worries"). It's a message I had to embrace this summer with my grandpa's death, that I can't change what's happened (or not happened) in the past, no matter how much I may wish and regret it. Becoming absorbed in the past like that only hinders my present and compromises my future. By focusing on the pain of yesteryear, I may lose the chance now to develop the kind of relationships I always wished for with my family. Don't worry about what you can't change, and do the best you can with today. These family relationships are one of the most important things I've got, and I don't want to fail them again; that is probably my biggest fear, so I'm going to respond with faith in action.

"Hakuna matata - what a wonderful phrase! ...It means no worries for the rest of your days." I'm leaving my past to Christ, relying on the healing power of the Atonement, and moving forward with faith in His promises. Everything's gonna be alright; in fact, it'll be great, even now :) I'm sure happy.

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