We humans are born of two people, parents, who each have their own parents, our grandparents. Those relationships create the fundamental building block for the family.
We may have brothers and sisters. If our siblings grow and have children, we become those children’s aunts and uncles. Our parents may have brothers and sisters, our uncles and aunts, and their children are our cousins. Then there are second and third cousins, and so on. Each of us exists in a web of these familial relationships.
In other words, every birth is the cause of a human relationship—and usually many relationships:
Family is not an important thing. It’s everything. – Michael J. Fox
You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them. – Desmond Tutu
Let us leave the discordant arguments concerning outward forms, and let us join together to hasten forward the Divine Cause of unity, until all humanity knows itself to be one family, joined together in love. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 127.
My younger brother and I were blessed with two immediate families growing up. My mother’s parents were Irish Catholic and hailed from Princeton, New Jersey. My father’s parents hailed also from Princeton, since my parents fell in love in high school and eloped soon after graduation. My paternal grandmother Mary was a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and my paternal grandfather, Frank, was Italian, a temperamental union. He passed away in a car crash when my father was only sixteen. Because of that loss, and because my grandparents had changed their name when they immigrated from the old country, I knew very little about my Italian heritage.
When I was 24, my wife Janet and I visited my grandmother for Mother’s Day. Grandmom gave Janet a small container of perfume and waited expectantly for our response.
“Thanks, Grandmom, I can use this,” Janet said.
“Do you notice anything different about this gift?” Grandmom said.
“Ah, it’s very nice, Nina Ricci is a good brand.”
“Yes, that’s what I’m talking about, the name. Do you notice anything?’
“Um, no Grandmom, should we?’
“Oh, I thought you knew, but I guess you don’t. Your grandfather’s original name was Ricci, didn’t you know?”
“Ah, no Grandmom, wow, that’s neat. Thanks for telling us.”
I had always wondered why I loved, just loved, all kinds of Italian food!
I have vague memories of my Italian great-grandparents, of sitting down to huge Italian dinners at their home. Later, after my mother’s divorce when I was four-years-old, and her remarriage to an Italian fellow in 1962, my brother, three new siblings and I and Janet, and our kids, would enjoy Wednesday Night Pasta Nights at their home that began in the 1990s. We are a close-knit family with no animosities, only respect, love and admiration for each other, and those pasta nights reinforced that closeness and camaraderie. They helped us get to know each other much better as we grew into adults with our own families, trials, concerns and achievements.
Every family has its memories and shared experiences, whether holiday commemorations, picnics and outings, birthdays and anniversary celebrations, graduations, physical or other tests, and many more. It is a great blessing to have a healthy, friendly, unified family.
How much more so to extend those feelings of warmth, felicity, interest, caring and love to every human being?
The prophets of God have called upon every human being to be as close and caring and loving to each other as I have had the blessing of seeing firsthand in my own extended family.
We know that love for our family can be expanded to include the love of other groups. Abdu’l-Baha expressed it thus in one of his talks in Paris in 1911:
There are many ways of expressing the love principle; there is love for the family. for the country, for the race, there is political enthusiasm, there is also the love of community of interest in service. These are all ways and means of showing the power of love. Without any such means, love would be unseen, unheard, unfelt—altogether unexpressed, unmanifested! Water shows its power in various ways, in quenching thirst, causing seed to grow, etc. Coal expresses one of its principles in gaslight, while one of the powers of electricity is shown in the electric light. If there were neither gas nor electricity, the nights of the world would be darkness! So, it is necessary to have an instrument, a motive for love’s manifestation, an object, a mode of expression.
We must find a way of spreading love among the sons of humanity. Ibid., p. 36.
Religion has been a powerful force for the expression of love among peoples and nations. First, in every religion there is love for its leaders and saints. Second, there is love from its follower towards other followers. Third, that love encompasses other cultures, nations, creeds and realities, until it spreads among the peoples of the whole Earth.
In all cases love starts with the individual and shines outward. We must love and respect our own selves to be fully encompassed and possessed of love. The Baha’i teachings say the knowledge of God as expressed in religion helps us discover that love within us, and offers means and methods of showing it to others:
Loving God is a precious bestowal that expands our view of the world and everyone and everything in it. Once found, our natural inclination is to share our newly found self with others, to share the wealth so to speak, like offering a gift of perfume so that others may inhale its sweet fragrance and become imbued with love. That is why there are untold examples of saints and martyrs in history and living around us, doing God’s work, good works, loving justice, peace and happiness for all human beings on the planet.
O Son of Spirit! With the joyful tidings of light I hail thee: rejoice! To the court of holiness I summon thee; abide therein that thou mayest live in peace for evermore. – Ibid., p. 11.