Cousins Are Forever

My boys have always loved spending time with my sister’s children. They are passionate about going to visit. They car when we have to leave. I had always assumed it was the context. My sister lives out in the country with woods and pastures and sheep and a dairy farm across the road. I’ve not always found my nieces and nephews easy to be with, but they are loving and enthusiastic about life. And I love being with my sister, so it never surprised me that the children liked visiting.

I was surprised, however, when I noticed exactly the same phenomenon with another cousin, one who comes with none of the amenities of open space and farm animals. Moreover, her feelings are easily hurt and it requires some thoughtfulness to negotiate the play. My boys, one a little older, one a little younger, don’t even seem to notice. They are just wild to be with her, under any conditions.

This seemingly indiscriminate passion for cousins got me thinking about the whole phenomenon. Neither of my parents ever spent time with their brothers and sisters when we were growing up, so I had no cousin relationships. I never thought about them one way or another. But, now that I’m thinking, there does seem to be something special about cousins. Once you’ve got them you get to have them forever. They are always yours. They may be separated from you, but neither you nor they nor anybody else can ever do anything to undo the cousin relationship. What a bedrock of security on which to build.

The same is true of our brothers and sisters of course. But, living with them every day, we use those relationships much harder. We rub against each other, play out our feelings on each other, compete with each other for scarce attention, can’t get away from each other. When we can be in touch with the sense of belonging with our siblings, of having each other forever, it is a very precious and wonderful thing. But it can sometimes be hard to find.

Cousins seems simpler. My boys can have them, but don’t have to live with them. They can milk every ounce of pleasure out of a visit, then go on with their own lives (fighting with each other when they need to fight), and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will get the pleasure of that company again.

I think of how most of us struggle to make friends, to feel secure enough with somebody that we stop being careful. I think of our lives in this mobile society, of how friendships are uprooted time and time again, of how many important relationships children have to abandon because they don’t have the skills or resources to stay in touch.

We need the bedrock of security that a cousin-type relationship offers, and we need it more than our little nuclear families can provide. We need extended families. We need all the people w can get--through relatives, through neighborhoods than endure, through communities of faith or affinity that have committed themselves to each other--who we know are going to be there no matter what. We need friends, peers, people to love, who are forever. We need our cousins.