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Family Feelings

I have somewhat belatedly made my way through Friday's New York Times. There I found a review by Ben Brantley of a new production of King Lear. It is being staged at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Being a native Bronxite I have no idea where that is (I can barely find Brooklyn!). Any current residents of the Big Apple been there? In any case, back to Brantley.

He applauds the production, directed by Arin Arbus, for its focus on the domestic drama, the interrelations among a dysfunctional, but (royalty aside) not untypical family. Here is the quote that caught my attention:

I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly experienced family quarrels in which an ostensibly small slight assumed a long and smothering life of its own. The imp of the perverse (to borrow from Poe) is never more self-sabotagingly present than in arguments with loved ones, when feelings run so deep that we can’t even fathom them.

And they're not even Italian!

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.

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I'm reminded of what Chesterton said about families: "Of course the family is a good institution because it is uncongenial. It is wholesome precisely because it contains so many divergencies and varieties. It is, as the sentimentalists say, like a little kingdom, and, like most other little kingdoms, is generally in a state of something resembling anarchy. It is exactly because our brother George is not interested in our religious difficulties, but is interested in the Trocadero Restaurant, that the family has some of the bracing qualities of the commonwealth. It is precisely because our uncle Henry does not approve of the theatrical ambitions of our sister Sarah that the family is like humanity. The men and women who, for good reasons and bad, revolt against the family, are, for good reasons and bad, simply revolting against mankind. Aunt Elizabeth is unreasonable, like mankind. Papa is excitable, like mankind. Our youngest brother is mischievous, like mankind. Grandpapa is stupid, like the world; he is old, like the world."

In a family we can learn to forgive, but there seem to be many families in which that lesson is not learned. In the little town in which I grew up, two sisters who lived down the road didn't talk for the last 35 years of so of their lives, because one of them felt a slight the other one said was never intended, and they were never reconciled this side of death. 

I think also of the violent language used of each other among Jewish sects, including the one that became Christianity. Or the violence of the language Christian groups have used, and use, of each other. 

We had a Jewish butcher when I was a boy. When my mother would complain and yell at him because he had let the bill mount up to what to me seemed astronomical numbers, he would take her in his arms and dance her around the kitchen table while singing, "You always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn't hurt at all..." Which would get her laughing, and that would be the end of it.

In an encounter with engaged couples a few weeks back, Pope Francis shared with them the three things necessary for a good relationship: "please," "thank you," and "sorry."

Having just returned from a family wedding with all the in-laws and out-laws, I can relate to all the sentiments! But I love it - drama and all!

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