the magic of cousins

Their eyes light up the instant the door opens. Maybe a moment’s hesitation of shyness for the youngest, but once they recognize who’s here, the grins burst forth: cousins!

In their bright eyes and squealing smiles I see flashes of family parties from my own childhood, noses pressed up against cold winter windows waiting for a pack of cousins to tumble into the house.

Coats flung off, wet boots kicked into corners, and suddenly we’re all running in a wild pack to the basement, weaving around adults and their ice-cubed drinks and their boring conversations. Off to the land of playroom sword fights and pool table battles and plotting elaborate make-believe and begging for a sleepover by the end of the night.

IMG_5253What’s more magical than cousins?

Already I see the same spark of recognition in my children’s eyes. Whether it’s been a week or a year since they’ve seen their kin, they click almost instantly, in a different way than they connect with friends or other children. Perhaps they see something familiar in their cousins: the same eyes or chin or hair. Perhaps they understand something they share: family, grandparents, a blood line, a last name.

Whatever the reason, children simply get cousins. A genuine no-holds-barred embrace of someone special.

Growing up, we had a gaggle of cousins on both sides of our family: older ones to emulate, peers to pal around with, little ones to adore. Some lived close and some lived far, but whenever we got together the world of cousins took on a life of its own. I have no memory of what my parents or aunts or uncles did during all those Easter brunches or Christmas parties or backyard barbeques, because our motley crew was always off causing trouble and delighting in each other’s company all to ourselves.

My kids have two cousins on each side. So while they won’t have the wild wrangle of all ages cramming into Grandma’s closet for a game of sardines, their cousins have become precious pearls all their own. My oldest son is enamored with his cousins: he talks about the four of them every day, counts down to when he gets to see them next, wears their beloved hand-me-downs as if they were royal finery.

I wish I could see the world through the eyes of a child for his cousins.

We hear so much tired talk about the proverbial human family; even the Body of Christ can become a cliché if we’re not careful. But I wonder what would happen if we could see each other as the cousins we are, sharing ancestors and blood and common stories. Maybe these metaphors – the brotherhood of man and the family of believers – would become more real, incarnate and enfleshed, if we could remember how we loved the cousins we knew as kids.

They weren’t our siblings, squabbling over petty fights and parental attention. And they weren’t our friends, whose affections sometimes faded as cliques changed and schools switched. Maybe we only saw them once a year, and for an afternoon or evening at that. But we always picked up right where we left off, the distance of time and space disappearing as we created a new adventure for that time together, that kairos set apart.

Years later, as adults scattered across the country and the globe, we may rarely cross paths except on email or Facebook, the occasional update from our parents. But when a wedding or funeral pulls us together again, there are still traces of the same connection of belonging, smiling at memories of the fun we had as kids, sharing stories of unforgettable family antics.

There’s something in the magic of cousins – the recognition of what we have in common, the unique relationship we share together – that challenges me to look at other relationships in my life differently.

What might happen if I decided to see my brothers and sisters in Christ as cousins instead?

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