I called my brother yesterday, for his birthday. I left a message.
I haven’t heard from him in eighteen months…although I did the same thing last year, too. We last spoke in January of 2014.
We aren’t estranged. At least, I don’t think we are. I think he’s at a loss for what to say in relation to the struggles my life has manifested over the past few years, and that awkwardness makes it possible for him, in his busy life, just to never…get…around to calling me back.
I think that the very topics of mental health and poverty terrify him so much that it’s just easier for him to avoid them.
So I don’t blame him. Much.
Meanwhile, my health is fine (thank you, Evil Big Pharma antidepressants!), I have a good job now, and although I’ve just been notified that I have to move from my home of 18 years, by and large there is less of a sense of crisis in my life than at any time since 2013.
My brother, I should mention, is the only member of my blood family with whom I have any relationship at all.
I report all this because as I write, here on this temperate holiday weekend, I have been reflecting on the Pagan community as an organizing principle.
Wikipedia, that infallible source of redoubtable knowledge, defines an organizing principle as “a core assumption from which everything else by proximity can derive a classification or a value. It is like a central reference point that allows all other objects to be located, often used in a conceptual framework.”
Nearly all of my friends are or were in some manner or fashion associated with the Pagan community. Their beliefs are all over the map, but we find ourselves at events of common interest, share a lexicon with which to speak and a generalized value set which is distinct from that of the mainstream culture. Paganism, broad as the term is, functions as that central reference point in creating a far flung, tremendously diverse network of relationships, histories, and shared experiences.
Recently, as I mentioned, I learned that the home in which I have lived for 18 years has been sold. Nemea and I must move. Having just gotten my new job, I did not have the money to move.
So we did a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign, and in 4 days, we raised enough money that we can look for a new place, knowing that we can actually put down the money a new landlord will require when we find one.
My point here is that community is something real. I have walked through most of my life feeling that I was on a tightwire: alone, and with nothing to catch me if I fell. But the truth is that I am valued by a large group of people with whom I do not share blood ties.
They are my safety net. They are my family, for all practical purposes.
Central to the weaving of that net has been the sharing of rituals. I don’t see as much of a sense of “we”ness in the atheist community, and I have to believe it is because fewer of them have gone through deep emotional experiences with one another, or shared the kind of common meaning that Beltane and Samhain and Yule mean for most Pagans.
So I conclude this rumination on family with an encouragement to share rituals, and to do so in a way that makes them communal, rather than internal, individual experiences. Hold hands. Sing together. Gaze into one another’s eyes. Pass a chalice. Take turns jumping the fire, or receiving the sacrament, or being “blessed”. Laugh together. Break bread.
It can be a cold world, and the wind is icy up there on the tightrope. But through shared ritual experience, we weave our safety net, extending far beyond what even a loving blood family can render. We become we, recognizing ourselves as parts of something larger.
And when we fall, we drift down only so far as where our community catches us, softly in the palms of its hands.