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Ben Werdmuller

Open morning pages: in polite celebration of Destructo's birthday

5 min read

Some years ago today, I was woken up by a family friend, who explained that she was going to be taking me to school today because my mother was having a baby. It was a home birth, and the action was all happening in my parents' bedroom down the hall. As I emerged from my bedroom, dressed and ready for school, I could hear the sounds of a baby being born through the door.

And then our family friend did something inexplicable: she opened the door, just briefly, so I could take a look.

Holy shit.

It was a bewildered four year old that turned up at the Squirrel School that day. I remember standing at the top of the slide set, just staring. When I was asked what was wrong, I calmly explained, "my mother is dead".

Spoiler alert: my mother wasn't dead. Instead, I had a brand new sister.

Her introduction into my life was traumatic, but I can't imagine my life without Hannah. Sure, my nickname for toddler-her was Destructo, owing to her penchant for stomping over my Lego like Godzilla. But sometimes your Lego needs to be stomped on. I was an amiable child, with my head often in the clouds; she was head-strong and adamant. Her first word was "no". In other words, she had so many qualities that I could learn from.

That pattern has continued throughout our lives. Her musicianship inspired me to keep nurturing my artistic side. Her individuality - which is fierce, and awesome - taught me that being my own person was not just possible, but better. And today, when I'm feeling crappy, she's the first person I turn to. She's even putting me to shame by learning Swift, with no programming background, and building her own app. We're family, in the figurative as well as the genetic sense of the word. It's nice to have someone out there who really understands you.

We moved to California more or less together, when ma started to need to use an oxygen tank. It was hard for both of us, and for a while we were pretty much just hanging out together, watching dumb movies on iTunes and ordering pizza. And our whole nuclear family was there for the operation, including her partner Peter, who may be alarmed to know that I consider him family, too.

I say it so often that it's a broken record: family is my religion and my nationality. I don't consider myself to be in any one place, and I don't believe in any sort of god, but I do believe in the people who have been there for me for my entire life. I know I'm lucky to have a family that I can depend on, and that can depend on me; some families are estranged, or emotionally distanced from each other. We're not, and it makes everything about my life better than it possibly could be otherwise.

My belief is that life is only as good as the people in it. Although I struggle from time to time, because everybody struggles (it's a part of being human), I consider myself very lucky to have a great life.

A lot of people have what they call found families, and I think that's a lovely thing: people who are every bit as close and as important as the family you might be related to. The importance I place in my genetic family isn't meant to be any kind of value judgment on anyone else's life, or anyone else's family relationship: the important thing, I think, is having that tight-knit community of mutual support and understanding.

On my dad's side of the family, we maintain a family tree. It's literally a tree: a giant painted one on a great big canvas, hanging on the wall of an old family home. (No, we don't have one just hanging up in our living room. For one thing, it's actually outgrown its canvas, and now stretches across three.) You can trace it back down to the 1400s, and when I found myself looking at it again last month, I wondered about all the people closer to the trunk. Would we still understand each other, across generations and centuries? I think, on some level, we probably would. Not necessarily because of genetics, but because values and shared experiences ripple between people. Before we talked about them in the context of social networks, network effects were real. Events echo through relationships.

As a family, we went through some seismic events over the last few years, and they're practically still ringing in our ears. I'm sure they'll continue to echo for some time to come, and throughout it all I'm glad we were together. I'm grateful.

Tonight, we're going to hang out and eat pizza with her friends. Damn right. Happy birthday, Hannah.