blood & water


I’d been looking into getting a little blue betta fish to keep me company at home. I plan to have some shade-friendly plants as I don’t get much light (which is awesome, given how hot this summer is), but the idea of a pet sounds nice.

It’s a very low-maintenance critter, working well with my double-shift schedule. They’re able to live in stagnant water from their original homes in rice paddies and puddles, and don’t need a lot of space, just a 1-2 gallon tank. It also is a fish that is better off alone rather than needing another fishy friend; their nickname of “fighting fish” is well-earned in their fierce territorial tendencies. I remember my sister having a betta in the family fish tank that would always be picking fights with the others, even though it was a huge tank.

I feel for the betta fish. As I read about them, I’d wonder why they grew to have that aggressive instinct. Maybe it was because of their living in a pretty harsh environment with rains and whatnot disturbing their homes, space being a dearly coveted possession. I’m not an marine biologist, so I can’t say.

Following yesterday’s scare with a suspicious character, I read up on this very violent gang in my area who prolifically kidnapped and sexually trafficked young girls and women. Their primary targets are teenagers, some not even in their teen years, who are much like me: orphaned in some capacity, and shy, some having a prior history in sexual abuse. The victim-assistance lady had the thought, as I described the latest harassers, that they belonged to this gang, who would force upon its members and the girls they’d traffic a sick sense of family to keep them within the group.

Not unlike my birth family.

Hatred for them and all they stood for rose up in me, to the point of thinking like the “fighting fish”. The hatred soon cooled down to an angry simmer, and I contented myself with more aggressively warding off such sexual harassment next time.

There was something about their horrible group that stood out, though: family. The irony is that as I read about that, and considered who I reached out to and thought of when scared…I realized that when I told that creep that I didn’t know where my family was I was not being entirely correct.

I do have a family who’d be there for me if I were in danger, and while their familial bonds are of abuse and hatred, ours is of love and faith, therefore stronger than theirs ever will be.

I’m sure most all of us has heard the famous phrase “Blood’s thicker than water,” which says the blood bond of a family is superior to all other bonds. What a lot of people don’t know is that it’s actually a bastardization of this phrase: “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” It refers back to Jesus’ more controversal words, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Here [seated in the circle] are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

Like a lot of things Jesus said, it caused quite a stir; at least back then, the Jews cared enormously about one’s lineage, not unlike the current social climate. Even contemporary readers (like me, when I first read this) would be bothered by this seemingly cold statement, mistaking it as Jesus disowning His family, His own Mother. Not so; He was trying to teach us that love and integrity is more important.

This isn’t really talked about in church very often; with marriage and the family being under such aggressive attack pretty much my whole life, familial bonds are often strongly exalted from the pulpit, while what bonds the abused or orphaned person should seek to replace the ones they were deprived of are often neglected. Even someone I look up to was very adamant to correct me when I once publically shared a statistic I read of how the most common offender of sexual abuse are parents, specifying it’s the unmarried stepfather. He said that being related by blood would usually protect children from being preyed upon, that what my father did was an unusual case (which is why I never really brought it up again).

All this sort of taught me (growing up) that God only cared about blood, too, nourished by the spiritual abuse I was getting at home. I learned that to love other people is to be disloyal, to cheat on my family, not unlike what those evil gang members beat into their victims.

This is a lie.

The ideal situation would be to have a mother and father whose love for each other protects their children from enmeshment, and teaches their children how to love. Their blood bonds, like marriage and sex between the parents, are supposed to strengthen that bond, but if there’s no love, those bonds are void. That sort of family is not as common as it used to be, resulting in a lot of orphaned grown-ups like me for monsters to prey on. To prevent that we need families, but what do they look like?

Some victims/survivors would talk about having a “chosen family“; close friendships with people who are glued together by love and a common purpose. I’d say this is why protester groups are so popular these days; to be part of a cause fills that wound many of us who feel orphaned have. You notice, though, how angry many of them are, even when they get their way. We can see here that while things like justice are very important and ought to be stood up for, anger doesn’t cure that wound.

I found the most healing when I was part of a chosen family with some people from church. Most (though not all) of those people I chose to be family back then ended up being not the wisest choices, but even then, with their shortcomings and eventual dealbreakers, their being from church had some, if mystifying, element of goodness and healing, what the priests call “grace”. I hesitate now to call anyone family, but this recent incident and its aftermath has made me reevaluate that attitude.

Even if you don’t go to church, I’m sure this brought to mind someone in your life you really connect with, and can depend on. If not, I’d urge you to find someone, giving a mindful evaluation if this is someone you can depend on or not, and to what extent. Just having one person to be your Samwise Gamgee on your journey is enough, if that’s all the companions you’re willing to trust at whatever point of this journey you’ve come to. It does get easier…don’t give up.

I just learned yesterday that not having a family of some kind is a dangerous thing, especially in a world where orphaned adults will be picked out like “intruding” fish in a betta’s tank. If the ones we were born into failed us, we have to look elsewhere.

Blood may be thicker than water, but water can wash off the stains blood left, and clean the wounds of infection, helping them heal.

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