Family and Facebook
I haven’t been close to my family outside of my daughter for a long time. Even my sister and I have been distant of late, both overwhelmed by the space between us and the pressures of our lives. (She’s had it worse, by far–her husband has had incredible health problems, and the economy caused her some job uncertainty for a while.) But it’s not an exaggeration when I say I’m far closer to Amy’s family, even the extended family, than I am with my own. Haven’t seen or talked to cousins or aunts and uncles for decades for the most part.
That’s changed quickly in the last couple of weeks, and it started because my sister joined Facebook, and then I discovered that a large number of these people–family members who lived with us in a cramped little trailer in some cases–had been within touching distance the whole time. It’s been good to see pictures, exchange stories, virtual neckhugs and so on.
But family always comes with baggage, right? And in 90%+ of this experience, it’s been less than a laptop bag’s worth. But for the family members who are still Jehovah’s Witnesses, there’s a smelly set of steamer trunks full of hard feelings I thought I’d put behind me a while back.
Here’s why the feelings are so hard. The life I’m living right now is not appreciably different from that of some of my cousins. My major “sin” is that Amy and I aren’t married. Oh, and I celebrate the holidays, though I don’t observe any of the religious aspects of them, given that I’m an atheist. Okay, I guess that counts as a sin too.
But here’s the thing–none of that would matter if I just hadn’t gotten baptized when I was just shy of 15 years old. If I’d never officially become a Witness, my Witness parents and Witness relatives would be perfectly fine with hanging out with me and my birthday-celebrating, not-believing-in-God, living-in-delicious-fornication ass. It’s the most absurd loophole in the history of loopholes. Oh sure, they’d cluck their disapproving tongues and tell me I ought to get right with God before Armageddon–they might even get weepy and tell me how they’re going to miss me in paradise–but I’d be allowed in, simply by virtue of not having been dipped when I was 14 years and 363 days old.
But dipped I was, and dipped I remained until I was 29 years old, at which point the elders of the Hammond LA congregation tracked me down, asked me if I wanted to meet with them some three years after I’d last set foot in a Kingdom Hall, and then disfellowshipped me about 3 weeks later.
I moved to Fayetteville for grad school a year and a half after that, and I considered, briefly, going to the local congregation just long enough to be reinstated, and then disappearing again, just to be on the right side of the loophole, but I decided against it for a couple of reasons. For one, I’m lazy, and it seemed like an awful lot of work for what would basically be a con. Plus, I’m gregarious, and I would no doubt become friendly with people in the congregation, and I didn’t have the stomach to deliberately hurt them. Witnesses are misguided on some things, but I don’t think they’re bad people, certainly not worth deliberate mistreatment.
It was also a matter of principle for me by that point. What had begun as a drifting away from the church became a deliberate leaving of it, and I wasn’t going to cheapen that decision by playing along with their rules. I told my parents that I would love to have a relationship with them, but that I wasn’t a Witness anymore and was never going to be one again. (I did this ten years after I left the church, by the way, and only after years where the only contact we had consisted of letters from my mother with the latest Witness material included.) We haven’t communicated since.
So when I started friending my family on Facebook, I wasn’t sure what response I’d get. It’s been positive, except for a note from one aunt, which I found irritating in its “luv to hear from ya! let me know when you’ve been reinstated” chirpiness. I have to focus on the positive, though, because that one negative note brought all that pain of separation back to the surface, pain I hadn’t really had to deal with for years now. I’ll see how it goes, but I have the feeling that the net result will be good, or at least neutral. I’m hoping for good.