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Making connections

Queenslog StarDate July 9, 2018

Tonight as the temperatures finally dropped below 100 degrees, I hopped on the quad and rode a quick loop through the fields surrounding our home.

When I was little, my older brother would take me for rides around our family farm. I loved the feeling of wind in my face, the heavy helmet tipping my head to one side. I was safe with my brother and happy as any kid could be.

As an adult, I've found solace on the back of a motorcycle or ATV -- it's a meditative space for me. The freedom, the dirt in my hair and teeth, the smell of the motor and the sound of wind rushing past me. Rarely have I found anything that could heal my soul so completely and quickly. I don't do it often, but when I do, I'm always thankful.

I've spent the last week contemplating connection. Connection to this earth and the air and the world that we live, yes, those things. The elements that make me feel whole. But the week's pondering had more to do with the connections of the spirit. My family and I hosted a family reunion over the Independence Day holiday. At times there would be 50 people in my backyard -- all connected by a strand of DNA, the perfect skin of Irish descent and the love of a good story and a cold beer.

The adults were all cousins or married to a cousin on my husband's side of the family. Their parents lived on opposite sides of the country without the means of getting the young cousins together to play and grow up collectively. A few years ago, a small team of us slowly, but surely, started building relationships. First we were acquaintances. We knew were related to each other, either by birth or marriage. Then, we became friends. Sharing life's trials, tribulations and triumphs. Last fall, a plan was hatched. We'd all get together here at the farm. We'd connect. As many of us as possible. My husband's father and his siblings had not had an easy life, but they were able to build these amazing families. The gathering was, as much as anything else, a way to say thank you to their parents for having the courage to build a better life when the odds were against it.

I had been working around the house all spring and summer to prepare for the arrival of nearly 20 extra people. The yard was looking pretty good, I'd rented everything from campers to teepees to house relatives. Other members of the family would help host and cook meals, open up their guest rooms. It was a team effort to welcome the cousins, some of whom were strangers, to the farm and to our world.

I worried that there would be drama, fighting. I worried that somebody would be an animal activist or vegan who would pose a threat to our world. I worried that someone would be uncomfortable.

There was drama and fighting. I managed to stay out of the vast majority of it or at least find my way around it. Our guests were meat eating, animal lovers who asked great questions about how we raise the cattle and produce the milk for the cheese on their plate. If anyone was uncomfortable, they didn't tell me. In fact, the only thing that went wrong is that we didn't get a group photo.

Although I wish we had that photo, I'm rather proud of myself for not packing around my camera. I usually do, but I really worked on being present.... and connected.... to the people visiting my home for 5 days. My camera tends to provide a barrier between me and other humans. As in, "I'm here, but not really involved. I'm the observer on the outside. I'm being useful in preserving this moment for the rest of you." With my barrier in hand, I don't have to worry about being awkward and saying the wrong thing. My barrier gets me out of trying to figure out how to be comfortable.

So, I put my barrier down. And guess what happened? I said stupid, awkward things and probably a lot of wrong things...and lived. I found comfort most of the time although there were a few moments in which I didn't know what to do with myself, but it worked out. Do you know what I did? I connected. I don't share DNA or even freckles with this group; that's my husband's role here. They are my friends -- people I have come to cherish and even trust in a world where I cherish few and trust even less.

One of the cousins has been working on creating a complete family tree. She'd pulled the work I'd done on and then gone through her late mother's notes and letters to fill in missing dates and names. She was able to get to the names of the family members who came to this country from Europe, something we hadn't had before.

It was the most popular item in our house. I'd watch each of the siblings crouch down in front of the wide expanse of paper and follow the lines to their... connections. They'd use their finger to trace the pencil marks reaching back to Ireland, Germany and France and then back down to the cousin who had just sat down beside them and then to the aunts and uncles and more cousins once, twice and three times removed.

It was as if, suddenly, their world clicked into place. We kept a pencil nearby to correct spelling and birthdays. But without fail, you'd see each person follow those lines to back to their roots, their centers... their connections.

I think in this world we are attached to machines --the bytes and screens and data that run the world. Sites like Ancestry and 23andme offer a different kind of connection. I think it's about understanding your source. It's the bond between family members who become friends. The explanation of the quick temper or the green eyes or the crooked second toe.

As our visitors were leaving I found tears falling from my eyes. I'd had a great week and found the empty space in my heart filled with love and kindness wrapped in warm hugs and tiny bit of my favorite whiskey. I hate that they all live so very far away, but am grateful for group chats and text messages to remind me no one is very far away for long.

Those were my thoughts anyway as I rode through the deep, fresh dirt with the sun setting before me. It had been a frustrating day, but once out on the bike and in the dirt, I was calm. The song playing on the radio when I got back to the house seemed to say it all. It's an Avett Brothers tune:

So here's to making connections in this Queendom, my friends. And to the love shared between the family you choose to call home.

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