Much as my upbringing and the "family values" people made me despise the word "family," the celebration of my son's marriage this weekend culminated in an experience of familial love such as I probably never felt before. The tribal, invidious elements were absent and instead I felt bathed in the love that others felt for one whom I love.
Loving one's child is, at its root, narcissistic. One's offspring begin life as repositories of wish-fulfillment impulses: he will fly where I merely jump up, she will be the beautiful person I have never been. And so on.
Yet a child, of one's blood or of another's, in one's home or in one's classroom or in any of the contexts in which children find themselves relying on adults, with all the unreasonable and one-sided demands that children unwittingly make, is the first lesson in truly loving, truly letting go of self for another, not merely out of duty, but with pleasure.
What adult does not die to save a child with a smile on his or her face? This is at the core of the sometimes harsh and fierce human species.
We kill many other species for food, to gain room for ourselves, even for sport. (Don't fool yourselves, self-righteous vegetarians: vegetables and fruits are also living species we kill.) From there we take it to tribalism, totemism, group selfishness and war: my people are better than yours, my family deserves more than yours.
Even if at the core of all the human family lies the strife deemed necessary to survive, there's no question that the good feeling of being nurtured and protected by one's family, clan, nation and planetary unions can be expansive and peaceful. This is what I gained this weekend.