Tag Archives: hanai

No strings attached

Recently, after having a talk with my hanai mom, I started to think about parents who love their children unconditionally. No brainer, right? Alas, it is not always so. Some people are orphans in all but name, having lost, due to some perceived slight, the love of a parent — the one person (or people, since most of us have at least 2 parents) who is supposed to love you no matter what.

That’s what I used to think unconditional love was: “I will love you no matter what.” But when I thought about it some more, it occurred to me that our moms and dads, many of them just doing the best they can to grapple with their own emotional baggage, really do love us unconditionally — in the “love you no matter what” sense — even if it feels like they don’t. However, what some parents don’t know how to do is love us without conditions. Love with no strings attached. Love that says, “I will love you, period. With no expectations of receiving anything in return. With no caveats. I will love you ceaselessly, independent of who you are, what you do, or where you go in life. I will love you because of who you are, not in spite of who you are. Period. End of story.”

The no-strings-attached kind of love says, “I will make to assured of my love for you, no matter the time or distance that separates us. You do not need to make yourself worthy of my love. You do not have to earn my love. My love encompasses all of your being, past, present, and future, regardless of where you go or what you do. My love will carry on even if we are angry with each other, even if we hurt one another or loose sight of the reasons we loved each other in the first place. I. Love. You.”

That, I think, is how every one wants to be loved.

And if we don’t get it from the people who brought us into the world, well, then we go looking. In a recent post, I talked about how my life has come to be greatly enriched by the Hawaiian tradition of hanai family. I’m pretty easy with love, and as such, I have a tendency to collect family. You see, I’m the kind of person who loves easily and brazenly, with very little thought as to how or why. Case in point with the concept of “family”: once I love you, you’re in. You’re in for good. I’m going to love you forever, even if at some point we have a falling out and we don’t talk anymore and we never lay eyes on each other ever again — rest assured, I’m out there, still loving you. I will love you without conditions.

That’s the kind of love that makes us feel secure. The kind of love that says, you really can go home again. No one wants to walk through life with a sword over their head, worrying over the threat of a severed family tie resulting from some innocuous misstep. There are good reasons, surely, to sever the bonds of family, but how many times does it happen just because someone’s pride of injured, or because one person passes judgment on another? How many of us live our lives to a lesser degree in order to maintain a relationship with someone who loves us, but whose love comes with strings attached? How many of us, fearing reprisal, remain suspiciously silent?

The Real Sarah C. Project is me breaking my silence. This is me, loving my own self, without conditions. This quote from Marianne Williamson, passed on to me by my dearly departed mother, sums it up well:

deepest-fear-pictureWhen we allow others to shine and make manifest the Divine within, we are loving them without conditions. So, in the words of the immortal Firefly peacemaker, Kaylee, go be shiny, y’all.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we subconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Read more at http://www.snopes.com/quotes/deepestfear.asp#fTguidUBICrS4c9V.99
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we subconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Read more at http://www.snopes.com/quotes/deepestfear.asp#fTguidUBICrS4c9V.99
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On the homefront

The concept of “home”, to me, is about family. And “family”, as far as I’m concerned, is about so much more than who your relatives are. Blood is not the only thing that makes a family. Marriages are direct evidence of this principle: even if you don’t intend to merge your genetic material to create offspring, when you get married, you form a new family. But even without government documents to bind us, families can be created in so many ways.

In our ever-expanding world, people very rarely continue to live within the same ten-mile radius that they were born into, often times moving thousands of miles away from where they were born and where their nuclear family unit resides. What then? We create our own homes, we find a new tribe, and we integrate into a new community. We set about adding branches to our family tree.

The people who surround us, care for us, and support us become our family through ties created of love. I’m very comfortable with the idea of an “extended” family. When I was growing up, it didn’t occur to me that my Auntie Rose and Auntie Nettie weren’t my mom’s real sisters — she loved them, so I did. They are part of my family. End of discussion. As a teenager, I began to wage my own life-long bonds of friendship and sisterhood. It was the first time I recall feeling bonded through shared experience: we are the same age, we come from similar dysfunctional backgrounds, we have similar interests. That was the foundation of our friendship. Then, just like Mary-Louise Parker’s character says in the movie “Boys on the Side”: there is something special that goes on between women. Through time and the magic of sisterhood, we became more than mere friends. We were sisters. Now they are my family. They are my blood. Period. End of discussion.

When I was 20, my mother died after slightly less than a year of fighting multiple myeloma. Just a year and a half earlier, we had lost my stepdad to lung cancer. I had moved from California, where both my relatives and my tribe did reside, to an itty bitty island in the middle of the Pacific in order to live with my mom and dad. And then they died. And I was alone in a way that one person should ever be. I had a roof over my head, but no home.

It took some time, but I crawled out of the crater left by that gargantuan life event. I finished college. I got married. I figured out who my real friends were and who would be members of my new tribe. I still felt like an orphan, but I managed to connect with a number of compassionate women who loved me like a daughter. I started to mend.

The thing about love, though, is that not all love is created equally. Don’t get me wrong: all love is good. But when you lose the love of a mother, no amount of love from friends or siblings or fathers is going to completely fill that empty cup. I felt, deep down to the very bottom of my soul, like a motherless wastrel in desperate need of some mothering. Every day that passed I felt more and more like an orphan, and all I wanted was my mommy.

I got my wish, after a time. In spades, you might say. And this is where I think Fate played her hand: if I hadn’t come to Hawaii, I wouldn’t have learned about Hanai family, and I would never have found mine. In Hawaiian, hanai means to adopt, to be close to, to nourish, to sustain. It was not an uncommon practice among Hawaiians newlyweds to practice the hanai custom by bestowing upon their parents their first born child to be raised by them. Children whose parents were unable to care for them were also given hanai parents, perhaps outside of their blood relations. It was seen as a blessing to the hanai parents, to be given the opportunity to care for and love a child that did not come from their union. The concept of family, or ohana, extended to all members of the society: we are all in this together, we who are bonded by blood or by love, it makes no difference. My hanai mom (really, I have more than one), like my sisters, has no qualms about our relationship. We’re family, with all the rights, privileges,  and responsibilities therein. Period, end of discussion.

It’s funny to think: I had to wind up a million miles from home, in a place I never anticipated I would go, surrounded by people I didn’t even know ten years ago, in order to find my family. My home.