This weekend, as reported, I went camping with some friends of mine to participate in a historical recreation event. Since my symptoms have been getting very bad over the bulk of 2014, I haven’t been very active this year and so this is something like the fifth event that I’ve attended out of dozens available throughout the year.
The first of those events was the day after a suicide scare. I tried to reach out to the live chat at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline’s website and – no joke – was told that all available counselors were assisting other clients and that if I wanted a more expedient response to call the Hotline itself. I found the situation so hysterically funny that I completely forgot about reaching out for help. The next day I went to the event against my will and it took nearly an hour to get me to leave the car. That was the first time I took to Facebook to just be blunt about my situation, and my life hasn’t been the same since.
Most of the people that follow me on Facebook are members of that organization, and so have seen the struggles that I’ve gone through and continue to experience. They have been exceedingly supportive and understanding as I wrestle with my demons, sometimes on an hourly basis. But it’s different seeing someone’s words on the screen and looking into their eyes when you feel like, despite the nice words, you’ve irreparably disappointed and distanced them from your life.
At all five events that I have attended, I have been met with an outpouring of support and encouragement and pure happiness that I’m out and about. This weekend, I literally lost count of the people who, at all levels of involvement and every step of the award structure and organizational hierarchy came to me and told me how wonderful it was to see me. I was hugged, I was kissed, I was told just how happy I made people just by being around. I met new friends who told me they’d heard of me through a mutual acquaintance and that it was such a pleasure to finally put a face to a name.
It felt like what I imagine a family reunion feels like. My family at birth consisted of three of my four grandparents, my mother and father, my half-brother, my aunt and uncle, and my two cousins. At this time, my family consists of my wife, my mother, and my daughter. All four grandparents, my father, and my half-brother are deceased; my uncle’s side of the family has disowned my mother and I; and I haven’t spoken with my niece since she was seven, much less met her husband and kids. There was never much of a family to reunite, and so I’ve never been to one.
My wife’s family, however, is tremendous. Her parents are divorced, and between the children of the remarriages there are 23 nieces and nephews. Anniversaries ending in zero and five regularly bring in hundreds of extended family members for a weekend. I’ve still never been to a family reunion.
But sitting under a large pavilion in a heavy downpour, dressed as a Viking, amidst the simulated combat (no one dies, but there are a lot of sore bodies the next day), the arts and sciences (someone made a working copy of Newton’s telescope!), and the merchants selling their wares, living a sort of year-round traveling Renaissance festival and skills demonstration, I’ve found my family. And every time I’m around them, it’s just like we’re all reuniting again.
I’ve seen babies born and grown to near adulthood. Kids that were less than ten when I first met them are married with kids of their own now. I’ve also marked the passing of more of my friends than I care to. With such a big chosen family, eventually you’ll realize that you’ve lost a lot of them to illnesses, old age, and tragic accidents. I miss every one of them and wish for just one more day with them to tell them how important they are to me, and how much I love them.
To those of them who read this blog, this post is for you. Thank you for the kindnesses you show me, your words of encouragement, and for bringing me into your family. We make a show of fighting with rattan and blunted fencing swords, of lords and ladies dressed in their court finest, of raucous parties with free-flowing alcohol and even more raucous tales of one another’s exploits. Sometimes we exchange heated words, and those wounds run deep because we do care about one another so much. But in the end, we’re one big family.
I chose every one of you. Thank you for making it a mutual choice. I’m honestly not sure I’d still be here today if it weren’t for you.