Clan (noun) 1. a group of families or households; people of common descent…a group united by some common trait, characteristic, or interest --Random House Dictionary
We all need a clan to come home to sometimes.
And so my clan gathered again last week, this time for the sad and beautiful funeral of a cousin who died much too young at 49. Some of us flew in from out of state. Others drove in from the suburbs to Dorchester, the Boston neighborhood where a generation ago our clan once lived. All of us are bound together in part by one lone Irish immigrant who alighted from a steamer on the docks of New York City in 1897, then traveled up to Massachusetts.
So we came together on a bitterly cold February day for rituals familiar and comforting, especially in the face of so cruel a death. The wake and the calling hours at the funeral home we’d all visited so many times. The service in the church, prayers wafting up to heaven in the bittersweet smell of incense. Sweet stories shared about the departed. Childhood anecdotes retold to laughter and tears. Then ice cold beers and warm comfort food. We eat and we drink and we do what all clans do best. We re-member. Re-form. Re-unite.
Because that’s what clans do. That’s what clans are: sacred shelters in a world where finally we all need each other. Need to remember what ties us all together as human beings and children of God. Clans remind us that God does not make us in this life for ourselves alone. Clans, in their ancient echoes, harken us back to a time when folks never ventured very far from the village or small town or urban enclave where they were born. Clans depended upon each other for safety in numbers, for shared history, for communal identification. In a clan you’re never just an “I”. You’re always a “we”. “Aren’t you Ed’s little boy, Louise’s son?” “Weren’t you born over on Bailey Street?”
Clans aren’t perfect. Some flee from them, rejecting familial bonds, feeling trapped by history or unfairly defined by memory. Clan family trees can sometimes pass on the best and the worst of human behavior. But even for all their brokenness at times, clans recall our mortal need to be a part of something bigger and greater than ourselves. This is true from the time of cave men and women to the street gangs, even, of today.
We all need to belong to some clan. To claim a shared connection by blood or faith or memory or address or race or ethnicity or pastime, a common truth which binds us one to another. It may be you family. Might be your church that you’ve called home for a score of Sundays. Your team who’s competed together on the field for so many games. Your neighborhood where families watch out for each other, talk over the fence, exchange casseroles when someone is sick or in need. Your platoon that went through the worst of the war by hanging on to one another for dear life. Your choir that still sings week after week after week, reminding you that life is never a solo act.
So thank God for clans. They make us who we are, for better, for worse, for sure. They give us cover from the storms of life and places to celebrate when the victory is won. They knit us in the intimacy of relationships. They give us memory, from the courage of an immigrant fresh off the boat to a newborn who is next in the journey from generation to generation.
Yes indeed. We all need a clan to come home to sometimes.