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Why Family Reunions Matter More Than Ever- Shawn Doyle

Updated: Aug 20, 2018

Two weeks ago I went to my family reunion in the beautiful hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was the first family reunion in over a decade and I was really looking forward to seeing family and meeting relatives I had never met before and being more connected- not to just my family but to my extended family. We gathered at a sun blessed park under shade trees and a gentle mountain breeze. I learned a few lessons that I didn’t expect to learn, and have reflected on my experience for the last few weeks. There were several things that struck me about the reunion:

Connection- Even though I am connected to many of my family members on Facebook, I came to learn quickly that the connection on social media is not the same. Even though we live in the hyper connected age, I think somehow we are more disconnected than ever. A virtual connection is not the same as a real one. I realized that you can’t hug someone on Facebook, you can’t hear them tell a story about your Dad or your Grandfather, or look at old pictures or meet your cousins from Missouri that you are not sure you have ever met before. You can’t see a relative smile and realize suddenly that there is something about that smile that is yours too. You can’t sit down beside them and learn about their lives. You can’t meet your people and feel the amazing sense that you share the same blood. Yes- I can look at my genealogy on a website and look at my family tree with all the names- but I can’t put my arm around them and look them in the eye. There are things I don’t know about them and couldn’t know. There are things that don’t get said on the internet and secrets that aren’t shared, stories that can’t be told. Laughs that can’t be heard. I am a published author and my father brought a few of my books for people to see. Many of my relatives didn’t realize I was a published author, or that I was a professional speaker. They were thrilled and proud to know that about their family member.

Belonging- I am a Doyle, and I have a wife and a daughter but I realized that I am connected and belong to another much larger tribe, a big collection of people connected by the chain of our descendants, by Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles who are no longer with us. As Jane Howard once said, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” We are spread all over the United States. We see faded sepia toned pictures of John Redd Doyle and we all know we are all connected to him. He belongs to all of us and all of us belong to him. We know where we came from and who we came from. All of us have his blood in us. Our bones have some of the same marrow. When we all held hands when saying grace before the meal- I felt an amazing sense of belonging to these people, they were my people, my blood, my folks, my tribe.

Knowing- I also realized what I don’t know about my family, and many facts and details that maybe were said to me when I was younger and have faded in the passing of time and distance. Maybe they were details I never knew about my family. Knowing my grandfather was in the Canadian Calvary, or that he drove Model T Fords for delivery from Detroit to Virginia, allows me to know more about myself. I know these facts are more than just facts, they are the experiences that shaped a generation and a family and made us who we are and I need to know more. I need to know the foundations of my family the blueprints of experience that shaped our tribe. As George Elliot once said- “What greater thing is there for human souls than to feel that they are joined for life - to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories. “

It was very poignant to know that I am part of something bigger and having a bond with people all around the country, and as we go through our daily lives, we have in our hearts a special connection to those we love- our family.

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