Nicholas Petron’s grandfather, Rocco Galasso, moved to New York City from Italy with the hopes of making a better life. For eighteen years, Rocco served as owner and superintendent of an apartment building where much of his family resided–until the day they were given notice that their building faced demolition to make way for new apartments. As Nick remembers, that’s when everything changed. (Produced by StoryCorps on Vimeo.)
What is the family?
Today, we hear a great deal about the “family,” and for good reason. There’s no doubt that both the idea and the reality, as our faith understands them, are being attacked, time and time again. Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Why is family important?
Now, wait. Put all those ideas that have just popped into your head on hold for a moment… Ask yourself again, slower this time, “Why is it important?” How would you explain it to someone that has never had an authentic family? Try putting aside for a moment the “correct” and “textbook” answers.
Why is the family important for you? Why is it important for everyone? I want to insist on this because I believe that when a subject becomes so popularized, “polemicized”, and politicized, original thinking and reflection tend to come to a halt.
If we are going to fight for the family– and we must– we must understand that, for many of our friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc., the value of the family isn’t so obvious. Images of dirty diapers, constant fighting, little sleep, economic worries, in-laws, and more, seem to be a sufficient deterrent for many. One of the most powerful parts of the video is when the narrator says, “At first, my reaction was they took his building away, and that’s what I though it was about…”
The young boys didn’t see things as the old man did. They couldn’t understand what it was that had wrenched their cherished grandfather’s heart. When they saw a dark and empty building, their grandfather saw a dark and empty home. He didn’t see walls and windows, rather people waving and smiling faces. He didn’t see a structure, but something that once “housed” the structure, that is, the family.
Teaching a blind man to see
Without denying the need for all the studies, the explanations, and the political movements, in the end, the value of the family is something that is lived and shared; it isn’t just “explained.” If a blind man (see note below) asked me to describe to him the colors of a beautiful painting, I might try and say something poetic or deep… but in reality, I would be at a loss for words. After thinking for a bit, I might say something like, “You don’t know what you are missing, it’s beautiful. One day you’ll see.”
Next time, in addition to explaining why the family is important, invite the person or people that you are talking with into your home. And, when you can’t, just try to treat them more like a brother or a sister, instead of just “so and so” coworker.
I can’t give my eyes to the blind man, but there are plenty of ways to share my experience with him, even though it be partial or indirect. One doesn’t need eyes to see beauty.
Here’s the last paragraph of Pope Benedict XVI’s homily to the families at Milan (June 3, 2012).
“Family, work, celebration: three of God’s gifts, three dimensions of our lives that must be brought into a harmonious balance. Harmonizing work schedules with family demands, professional life with fatherhood and motherhood, work with celebration, is important for building up a society with a human face. In this regard, always give priority to the logic of being over that of having: the first builds up, the second ends up destroying. We must learn to believe first of all in the family, in authentic love, the kind that comes from God and unites us to him, the kind that therefore “makes us a ‘we’ which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is ‘all in all’ (1 Cor 15:28)” (Deus Caritas Est, 18). Amen.
Note: For clarities sake, the idea of my post isn’t to deny either the importance or the urgent necessity of “explaining” marriage to others. Nor do I think that there really exists anyone that is completely “blind” to what it is and why it is important. Nevertheless, I think that if we want to give effective explanations (in reality, it is the Lord who opens the eyes of the blind; still, we have an important part to play in pointing people to him), we must ask ourselves the question with all honesty, originality, and depth. In doing so, one can’t help but realize that words only go so far and that the value, meaning, and mystery of the family are truly inexhaustible.