The inspiration for this piece is from the film, Finding Forrester. I love this film because it’s about writing, and involves typing, talking and ideas. At the end of the film, the “J.D. Salingeresque” character, writer William Forrester delivers the essay “Losing Family” to a classroom of students written by one of their classmates. The film dissolves the middle of the piece and we never hear the entire essay, but the beginning and end are poignant, touching and gripped my heart. It also didn’t hurt that Sean Connery played Forrester and was reading the piece written by the character, sixteen year-old Jamal Wallace. I decided to fill in the middle. My words complete what I think it might mean.
By Patricia Sund
“Losing family obliges us to find our family. Not always the family that is our blood, but the family that can become our blood. Should we have the wisdom to open our door to this new family, we will find that the wishes we had for the father, who once guided us and for the brother, who once inspired us…”
…are not merely wishes at all. A family is not what you always imagine it will be. It isn’t the Norman Rockwell painting emblazoned in the minds of so many who’s memories of their own family get-togethers depict the quaint “New England” quality that Rockwell so beautifully depicted. We didn’t all have that picture postcard in our lives. And if we did, not all of us have the luxury of repeating the experience.
We begin with pure hearts, high ideals, and huge aspirations. We want to have the word by the tail. And at age twenty-two, we have the energy. It seems that at twenty-two, anything is possible. We are inspired and it seems we have all the time in the world. There are now many different types of families. As you might know and perhaps have experienced, not all families are completely human. Not all of us know what we want in life at the outset of adulthood. This responsibility and capability of “knowing” what you are to do and really want to do with your life doesn’t always occur to so many of us at such an early age.
Then comes the process of elimination. We may not know what we want to do, but perhaps we know at this point what we don’t want in our lives.
Life has a strange way of sometimes choosing for you. You end up in a place purely by a series of choices. You choose to live somewhere and that life unfolds. You choose to do something and suddenly, things in your life begin to change. You make an arbitrary decision and it alters the course of your life.
Deciding what you don’t want has the same effect. I didn’t want to live in tract house out in the suburbs somewhere, married and with children. I couldn’t have done that. I admire the people who look to that as their goal because, to me, it seems so hard. It seemed so selfless and grinding. I just couldn’t have imagined that as a life for me.
And yet, it appeared to me that so many people chose that lot in life because they thought it would be the easier, more predictable way of living. I think many choose that because they didn’t realize that they have a choice. This astounds me. I never understood why it might not have occurred to them they could have selected a different road and chosen an alternate way to travel through life.
I suppose if you knew me or have even met me, you’d understand that the life chosen by so many others, meant that it was not for me. In choosing my road in life, I “took the one less traveled by.”
Because of this choice, my family has come to me. They too, ended up on the rockier, more slippery slope.
Life sometimes chooses for you. My family is not of my blood, and not entirely of my species, but I view them as my clan. My tribe. My troop. My fraternity. It includes people, birds and a dog and it is indeed where I am grounded. Spiritual writer Denise Linn has observed: “My old Chinese teacher used to say that a person will draw to himself those who want what he has to offer. So, whatever your level of ability, whoever comes to you, knows within his higher self what you have to offer. And what you have to offer is what that person needs at that time.”
My family, and perhaps yours, is one of your own destiny and of your own making. It defies species, relations and arbitrary obligations. It is, indeed what life has offered and what you have accepted and embraced. It is not bound by the traditional meaning of “Family.” You are not connected by blood, relation, obligation, or any other prerequisite to form what is important and meaningful to you. It doesn’t matter that it might be incomprehensible to others.
FORRESTER: Do you know what people are most afraid of?
FORRESTER: What they don’t understand. And when we don’t understand we turn to our assumptions.
Deciding what to do with the time you are allotted in life is a challenge. Best you do what is in your heart; even if it takes you down the mossier path. I have found that while that path is sometimes rockier, more difficult, and tougher to navigate, in the end you might find the family that you truly belong to and in turn belongs to you. We chose this path because our family spoke to us along the way and it was often in the form of a bird’s call, a dog’s bark, or a friend’s request for company. That beckoning might be a door opening to your family. It may not be traditional, but it is what we are and what we chose.Accept this group, or clan that you have and respect it for what it is: Your Family. It may not be what others perceive as family. But then, they didn’t choose the same road. The limits in their choices are not yours. Live and celebrate your choice. Respect the road you chose.
By taking that road, you have made the decision to choose how to live and who to love as opposed to accepting what has been given to you by merely being born. It is the dignity of choice that makes all the difference. And the gift of choosing your family is the ultimate bestowal. Treat them well.
“… The only thing left to say will be: “I wish I had seen this, or I wish I had done that, or I wish…
Most of you are too young to know what your wishes will be. But when I read these words…words of hope, dreams, I realize that the one wish that was granted to me, so late in life was the gift of friendship.”
May 24, 2012 at 9:29 pm
This is a lovely article, Patricia, and very true. The only life worth living is the one we chosse to live. And no matter what the pessimists say, not matter what your circumstances, there are always choices.
June 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm
I have similar sentiments too
September 12, 2013 at 10:51 pm
I have often watched this movie, Finding Forrester, and at 64 years of age I identify with him and Jamal Wallace in many ways. I have an adopted family of which I started to become an integral part when I was in my late 30s. My actual brothers and sisters are living in other areas of the US and/or are very different in their life orientation. Our parents being gone now, my adopted family is my only family for the most part. I am uncle Saul to the kids and grandkids with their parents being my best friends. I follow what you say about choices, but only as our human finite perception. It is my belief that there is no free will out side of finite perception, and everything is as scripted as the most intricate movie or book, written by the Creator of all. This is the testimony not seen apparent in the life of Jesus Christ, but yet there very clearly for those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. The choices we make and the lives that appear to be consequent upon them is by infinite design having determinate cause and effect in every minute detail. It is in this revelation that we can be sure our choices were His design and have gone off right on time. This is the confidence I have to embrace all of mankind as potential family. It is my hope that this understanding will permeate all of humanity eventually and bring about the eutopia we have all had before our desires, hopes and dreams.
It is only lack of understanding that breaks our ability to perceive this truth. And, Even this is by His design. It is not boring at least and everyday an adventure. It is a blessing to live it in that greater parenthesis of God Sovereign Control where our choice can be taken in the joy and confidence it was written before the world began. Thanks for your article and this chance to express my heart.
Love to all and May the will of God be done, even as it is done, whether or not we understand or appreciate it at the time. Paul
May 14, 2014 at 1:19 pm
Having just re-watched “Finding Forrester” I was “obliged” to look up that particular scene and see if there was a full manuscript as its basis. Just as a movie may have a partial song, and then one day you discover the full version somewhere along the road, I found this. This was a pleasant surprise that has made my day brighter. Thanks,
May 14, 2014 at 3:21 pm
Thank you, Michael. I also looked for the complete script of the essay Jamal wrote and couldn’t find it. I wish the writers had actually written a complete essay because I found the words in the scene poignant and compelling. I felt “obliged” to fill in the middle…at least a version of what it meant to me.