I was talking to a young mother, and she was telling me how much her little son enjoys the company of his seven cousins. "They are all older than he is and they pay him so much attention. He just loves it." I could see the joy in her eyes as she talked about the cousins and their value in her family. This brought me back to my own childhood and memories of heading out to the farm to play with my cousins.
They showed me how to milk a cow, feed the pigs and climb up into the hay mow and shove the hay through the trap door, without falling down through the hole in the hay that looked like a big black mouth. We ran through the fields in rubber boots, climbed out to the far rickety reaches of the old apple tree branches and rode the bucking horses through the pastures like the James Gang. When my cousins came to town, we would strut down the main street and look into the store windows, or pay a quarter to go to watch an afternoon of Three Stooges fun.We learned from each other, protected one another, and it was good.
I told the young mother that my two grandsons have two first cousins, both from near Montreal, and she said, "Oh yes, they don't have many children any more in Quebec." Her response startled me a bit, but there is some truth in it when one considers the declining birth rates, and the mass exodus from the Catholic Church. I told her that her little boy was fortunate to have so many cousins because more and more children have fewer and fewer cousins.
It's the same everywhere you look. And perhaps this is an opportunity for society to extend itself in a new way. Families used to be more close knit and private, but now families socialize more often because the children enjoy each others' company. They want it and they need it.
As Mother Teresa says, "It is easy to love those who live far away. It is not always easy to love those who live right next to us....I want you to be concerned about your next-door neighbour. Do you know who your neighbour is?"
My wife and I were with our grandsons and their parents for Easter dinner. We were just about to say Grace when the doorbell rang and the little boy from down the street whose parents are going through a divorce asked if he could come in. My daughter said, "Of course," and invited him to eat with us. He declined because he had already eaten but he sat in the dining room with us and obviously enjoyed our company, and our grandsons enjoyed his.
Perhaps this is what Mother Teresa was talking about. Could this be the new family which makes up for a lack of cousins with a greater hospitality and more welcoming home? At first, I found it a bit difficult to have a stranger sitting with us as we ate, but as I thought about it more, I could see that a lot of good was being done, and I was proud of my daughter and her husband for being so generous.
The boys were happy about it too because they basically had a new cousin in the house and that was just fine with them.
By the same token, the real thing can be better than a tonic. This weekend, I attended a family reunion of one side of my wife's family, and there were cousins galore. There were cousins in the house, cousins on the porch, tiny cousins rolling in the grass, and cousins sitting around in chairs like philosophers. I sat back and took it all in, feeling the warmth only a family of cousins can produce, and watching the joy of life in the cousins' eyes.
They spoke of family tragedies and family celebrations, hilarious incidents which nobody but the family, and those lucky enough to have been invited like me, would ever know or hear about. They hugged, they kissed, they cried, they laughed, but most of all, they shared something which is both indescribable and also so real you can almost touch it.
That of course, is the gift of family, the gift of cousins, the gift of the heart, the gift of the soul, and above all else, the Gift of God which is the gift of life.
Thank God for cousins.