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We are family

At Acton University last month, I was able to listen to Dr. Samuel Gregg address Pope Benedict's response to the crisis in Europe.

What crisis, you ask?  We know that the European crisis is multi-dimensional, not the least of which is Europe's spiritual crisis.  Europe, for the most part, is now largely agnostic.  However, Dr. Gregg chose to focus on what he believes are the two greatest challenges facing Europe:  its economy and the demographics of most European countries.

Betcha didn't know:  no Western European country has a replacement birth rate.  1/2 of Europeans have no siblings.  1/4 of European households are single people.  Europeans are simply not having kids;  they are not able to sustain their aging populations.

Now, Dr. Gregg went on to note how this fact will impact Europe (and the world) economically.  However, I was taken by the fact that millions and millions of Europeans have no siblings, no cousins, no aunts and  uncles, no nieces and nephews.

That is horrifying to me.  I didn't grow up in a big family - just three sibs and me.  However, we had scores of cousins, some of whom lived just around the corner from us.  Aunts and uncles were constants in my life - surrogate parents, playmates, babysitters and co-conspirators.  I am blessed to have 23 nieces and nephews and 22 great nieces and nephews (and that number is subject to change at a blinding rate of speed!).  Having a large family means a lot, but first and foremost it means you are never lonely, and you never have to worry about what will happen in a crisis.  There is literally an army of people ready and willing to prop you up when necessary, kick you in the tush when you need it, and hold your hand when you need encouragement and consolation.  What would it be like to travel through this life without that?

Oh, I know many people will tell me that they have created their own "family":  a network of friends that work as a quasi-family unit.  However, you really only do that when you're an adult.  What would my life be like if Ken, Alan and Jamie hadn't taught me what life with boys was like?  If Aunt Frances and Uncle Frank were not silly counterparts to parents who didn't mind me dropping in unannounced at their home with a herd of college friends?  If I hadn't been able to practice being a mom by caring for my nieces and nephews?  It wouldn't be simply a radically different life, but a lonely and emptier life.

Unless you come from a terribly dysfunctional family, you will acknowledge how great a blessing extended family is.  Recognizing that there are literally millions of people in the world who will never know this blessing is not simply a sad fact, but a vision of a fundamentally warped version of what we now know as culture in the Western world.

If you want to read more from Dr. Gregg on this topic, go to http://www.acton.org/commentary/448_1968_old_europe_died.php

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