I'm over half-way through writing my final paper of the semester, so I decided that it's time for a blogging break.
Over Yom Tov, I spent my time with my friend and her family. My friend's older sister was there for Yom Tov. I had only met this sister once before; she doesn't live in the same town as my friend and her family and doesn't make it home so often. We talked a lot over the chag, we are both working on advanced degrees in similar fields, are similar age and had a lot of similar interests. However, what I observed was that she didn't have so many interests in common with her family; she seemed to be the "black sheep" of the family.
It got me to thinking about the nature of the black sheep - is it about difference only, or does it necessarily have a negative connotation as well? I thought about many of my friends, some of whom would definitely be described as the black sheep in their families - but it definitely is not because of any negative association. A lot of my friends are black sheep merely because they have become baalee teshuva and their lives are so distinctly different from the environment in which they grew up.
I also thought about those friends of mine who would be considered black sheep who aren't baalei teshuvah. They have struck out in a different direction than that of their upbringing - some of them much more religious than their families, some of them less so. Some of them probably on a similar religious plane, but taking a different direction in other realms.
I guess if I have to place myself in some kind of box, I would admit to being the black sheep in my own family. I find it difficult to place myself in that role, however, because each member in my family is very different. In some ways, I have remained true to my upbringing - strong Jewish identity, major emphasis on education, open-minded, non-materialistic. In other ways, I have certainly strayed - becoming religious, moving far from my family, not placing an emphasis on TV and movies that seem to permeate the existence and fill the majority of spare time for my family members. But again, each member of my family is extremely different, so while I am certainly the farthest away geographically, I am not sure I am the farthest in terms of values.
Whether I am the black sheep or not, I know that it is difficult feeling this perceived difference and distance from one's family. Often, people will ask me how often I visit or receive visits from my family. The answer is very rarely, which to others often seems odd, but to me is just a part of my life that, while not necessarily easy, I have gotten used to.
I think the physical distance is often not as hard as the emotional distance however. I think it's this emotional distance, regardless of how close geographically you live, that causes the gap between family members to widen. The black sheep is often criticized and ostracized; family members don't understand his decisions, constant explanation of personal decisions is required. It's hard being a black sheep and standing out.
What does a mistunderstood black sheep do? Some of us move away from home. Some establish a psychological distance from family. Some close themselves off emotionally from those who question their decisions. The lucky ones manage to develop relationships with those outside their families who become their support system.
I feel lucky that as a black sheep, I have managed to build an alternate family for myself, and I have seen that many of my friends who are black sheep have also done the same. But that feeling of being a black sheep, of distance, whether geographic, emotional, or physchological, from family is always there, under the surface, lurking. I wonder if there is a way to be different and maintain a close relationship with one's family?