Missin' Cousins


This brief column by Anthony Esolen from a 2006 issue of Touchstone reminds me that I've never bragged here about the fact in addition to my two siblings I have at least 35 first cousins by blood.

The family had gathered around him, and in our case that meant that a few of my cousins who lived nearby stopped to say farewell. One cousin in particular hung his arm around my father’s shoulder and talked to him about the times long ago, when he was just a kid with a live fastball and my father was the coach. He smiled and told stories, leaning over to keep the old man from having to turn his head, almost whispering into his ear...

But the odd thing about this scene, for modern Americans, is not that my cousin should express his affection in so touching a way, but that there should be any cousin at all in that room--any person with intimate ties to a family beyond his parents and siblings, and a deep reservoir of shared memories with that family. Americans who live in separate bedrooms and worship at separate television sets may find it hard to imagine the bond that would link not merely brother and brother, but kinfolk a couple of streets or farms away...

Most Christians have noticed that families have become small, and many Christians see that it involves a peculiar rejection of generosity. We say that we can’t have a lot of children because we want to give the children we do have the greatest opportunities we can. Thus we assume that our children are deeply selfish, as if they would prefer a yearly vacation in the Adirondacks to another brother or sister, or, to put it differently, as if in years to come they might look at a younger sibling and wistfully daydream of hikes that never were.

But that is where our analysis stops: with the nuclear family, the hydrogen or helium family. It hasn’t occurred to us to ask what our small families do to neighborhoods and churches, or even to the families to which we are related. For if we fail to give our children siblings, we also fail to give them cousins, and fail to give what cousins they do have the number of cousins they need. We cannot isolate ourselves without doing our part to isolate others, too, and whether they like it or not.

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This page contains a single entry by Papa-Lu published on June 24, 2008 4:13 PM.

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