The Family Chain (More on Multi-Generational)

(sort of continued from the last post)


Take a look at this picture and try to imagine it if any one of the links in those chains were missing. The experience would be impossible—the dreamlike wonder of that little girl, the suspension, the moment, the photo…


By the way, the little girl in that picture; that’s Karlee. Her dad took that picture. Her dad is my son.

We are all links in a familial, multi-generational chain. I realize that makes it all sound so social-sciencey, but FAMILY is sort of the mother of all multi-generational relationships.

Let’s start with the individual links, singly, on their own. Each of us has something to offer. Each has a genesis, a beginning. Each has a story and is a part of a story. Each has the capacity to be generative (or degenerative, unfortunately).

And while some have gifts and talents that may be more apparent than others, we all have something we can offer. We are all links and therefore essential. My gifts may be different from yours, but that doesn’t make mine or yours any better or more needed.

For several years I had the privilege of serving on the board of directors of the International Arts Movement in New York City. The founder, Mako Fujimura taught me so much about the concept of being “generative”. I think of Mako and those ideas frequently. That experience altered me—for the better. If you want to know what I’m talking about you can read a part of his essay on the subject here: On Becoming Generative: An Introduction to Culture Care.

What happens when a link in the multi-generational chain breaks, or goes missing. Whether through a death, alienation, separation or disappearance, it happens to every family. Maybe it’s like when we played Red Rover on the playground in grade school. Some force from the other side would come running toward our frail little human chain and slam against what they presumed was our weakest link. If they broke through, they would claim one of our members. We would simply close the gap, hold hands, reestablish the link, hopefully with a stronger tie this time. Who was this “Red Rover” anyway. And why did we keep imploring her/him to send someone over. Why not just keep our little chain intact? Maybe life just doesn’t work that way.

This summer my Mom and Dad will celebrate 70 years of marriage. Maybe I’ve taken that link for granted. In all of my 65 years I have never once wondered if their bond was weak, or in danger of breaking. Of course you don’t get to the ages of 91 and 88 without some outside threats to the links in the chain.

Last night I talked to a dear friend in Atlanta. His mom is struggling with health issues. I could hear in his voice the pain of realizing that at some point the chain breaks. Maybe as a friend, but still an outsider, we can still hold hands while the chain heals. Maybe sometimes the family chain extends beyond the strict biology. After all a link is a link even if we’re a weaker link.