Over the summer I visited my family in the Netherlands after having helped lead a six-week study abroad program in Nantes, France. The night before my flight home, my aunt Colleen and I walked to a local tennis club to sip wine and watch my uncle play doubles. Afterwards, we crowded around a table with the tennis partners, neighbors, and friends, and one woman’s smiling eyes shifted from my face to Colleen’s face and back to mine.
She turned to Colleen said something like this: “Ze is zeker je nichtje.” She is definitely your niece.
I understood and smiled. “Ja,” I said. Yes because the woman was right; but also yes because, due to my family, I can be a million miles away from where I belong and still find a place that is home.
I am humbled by the loyalty of my family, especially when traveling. Knit by something more than a shared dairy farm, my family challenges one another, begs to differ, and then opens its arms anyway.
Countless times have I stepped off a European train into the waiting hug of a cousin I haven’t seen in years. In August 2009, my siblings, Andrea and Jordan, and I took the train from Harrisburg to Philadelphia just to sip coffee, browse markets, and gab like crazy. A few months ago, my aunt Dena invited me to attend an information session on Foreign Service careers in Washington, D.C.; we sat together, asked each other questions, and discussed everything later with my uncle Floyd over a home-cooked dinner. Just yesterday I just received a text from my cousin, Laura, who asked if she could stop in Pittsburgh on her way back from Wisconsin.
My heart resonates when I am with family far from home.
If family is loyalty, family is also priority, graciousness, and forgiveness. Family is learning from your mistakes, apologizing, and being there when you are needed anyway. Family is where you’ve come from and being open to where you’re going. Family is learning to accept love as much as it is learning to give it. Family is a choice — but it can be the most beautiful one.