Related by Choice

The man who underestimates the power of blood to draw a clan together had better steer clear of eastern Kentucky. Some of those folks are mighty peculiar about such things. They might get in a fight and try to break a cousin’s arm off on a Saturday night but if you so much as spit in that cousin’s direction the next week, they’ll come right after you. “Blood’s thicker than water,” my grandma used to say, which I figured must be why grandpa was always pouring water into that leaky ole radiator on his tractor. I didn’t think buttermilk would work very well.

That family thing can be a bit tricky for an outsider to figure out. Sometimes it’s just plain impossible. I read an article last year about Kentucky’s homicide rates. Kentucky has one hundred-and-twenty counties. Take away the two urban areas of Louisville/Jefferson and Lexington/Fayette and there’s a ten-county section of eastern Kentucky that on average accounts for eighty percent of killings in the whole state. What’s even more intriguing to me: eighty percent of those murders are committed by family members. Yep, right there where the family ties are so strong that they’ll go to war over a stray pig, the person most likely to kill you is someone to whom you are related.

Now I’m all out, sure ’nuff, tee-totally, all the way from here to Sunday in favor of family members, siblings, cousins, in-laws and out-laws supporting one another, loving one another and helping one another out. The Bible even says that any dude who won’t provide for his own is lower than an infidel. So, yes, I believe that families should take care of each other.

If we’ll all be honest, though, there are lots of family members, and not all of them are stuck in some hollow in Kentucky, who seem to focus a lot more on using blood-relation as an excuse for violence and vengeance rather than as an obligation to show the love and compassion of Christ. I suppose for people such as that any excuse to kick somebody upside the head is as good as another and doing it “for my blood” just sounds downright honorable.

What sounds a lot more honorable to me and what impresses me a lot more are the people I’ve known who made family love a choice of will and purpose rather than a consequence of pedigree. Step-moms and step-dads, step-grandmas and step-grandpas, aunts and uncles by virtue of friendship rather than shared genetic material. I’ve known such people as this to spend countless hours fishing and hunting, teaching skills and hobbies, traveling together, reading books together, tramping across the country, going to ballgames, building stuff in the backyard and otherwise just hanging out together.

What’s really cool to me is that quite often in these relationships, people get so used to the love that they forget they aren’t even related. “Well of course she’s my real grandma!! She ain’t artificial!”

What really defines and constructs our strongest relationships is caring, concern, helping, sharing, working together, pitching in and sometimes, just being there. Regardless of the amount of shared DNA.

But, yes, I do recognize that blood is thicker than water. So is buttermilk. Some folks think they’re both easy to spill.

Love? You can’t cut that stuff! It’ll outlast everything on the planet. And that’s what really defines “family.”

H. Arnett
1/29/15

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About Doc Arnett

Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Blair, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-five years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-one grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.
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