Armistead Maupin, who happens to be one of my favourite authors of all time, writes in his Tales of The City sequence about the difference between your logical and your biological families.
Your biological family, as you would expect, are your mum and dad etc. These are the people that shape you from day one. They teach you manners (or not), how to eat with a knife and fork, not to wipe snot on your sleeve, not to murder your siblings over bits of Lego, that sort of thing. They also embed in you, consciously or unconsciously, those morals and codes that they live by. You spend the rest of your life either embracing them or running away from them.
Mostly, you love your biological family. Even when they’re horrible, you can’t help loving them. It’s in you, like a virus. Sometimes though, they let you down. They fuck you up your mum and dad (and Philip Larkin). Sometimes they break your heart, and relationships with them can be tricky because even when you break with them, if you do, some part of you seeks their approval or notice pretty much forever more. It can be terrible when you realise their mortality, or their flaws, or that your own politics or morals have changed so much that you have trouble relating to family members, even though you have to spend time with them. You love them anyway, but in a stranger way.
Even if you still love them in the best way, they cannot teach you everything you need to know as an adult. They’re probably not great on what it feels like to fall in love, or experience passion, or a broken heart, because even though they’ve undoubtedly felt those things, there are a whole load of barriers between you and them that neither side is particularly comfortable breaking down those walls enough to talk frankly about.
It’s why biological families are complicated.
Logical families though? That’s another thing. Your logical family, Maupin says, are those people who you choose to be in your life. They don’t have to be there, but for whatever reason, you want them there. Sometimes they’re your actual friends, sometimes they can be people you wish were your friends. I think of them as the people that start to teach you what your biological family can’t. These are the people that show you a wider world than the four walls of your home. These are the people that help shape the way your adult life will turn out, like your biological family shape your childhood. They offer you choices that the confines of your family don’t.
You love them because they gave you (and still give you) a rare gift. They show you the world can be different than you think. They show you that you have a place in it no matter how weird or isolated or other you think you are. They show you the world is wide enough for everything you are and everything you want to be.
You love them for it.
Your love for them, if they’re not actual, physical friends, is usually pretty uncomplicated. You love them for specific things they mean to you, not their whole, tricky selves. You love them for the sign posts and way markers they are.
I’m thinking of people like Bowie, and Alan Rickman, who died this week, and why I’m so sad about their passing. Like Terry Pratchett, I realise I considered these people part of my logical family. I didn’t know them in real life.
It didn’t matter.
I mourn them because they helped shape my adult life. I would not be who I am, think how I do, without them. They were and are the people I choose for myself, people I love because they teach me things I would never have otherwise known, or seen, or felt or realised were OK. Where their lives, their art, their experiences, hinge with mine, are what became moments of epiphany. Those ‘Oh my God, really?’ or ‘Oh my God, me too!’ moments that fling the doors of my heart and mind wide open for a moment or two and let in other things, amazing, special, crazy things that lift me up and out of myself and into places I never dreamed could be mine, and that suddenly are.
So it is entirely reasonable then to be utterly miserable when these people die. I mourn those splendid people whose light made the darkness a little more bearable, whose genius was for me, a moment when they showed me a different way of looking at the world and I felt privileged to have shared it with them.
I’m glad they leave their legacy behind them. It means they live on. I’m just sad they can’t be here to add to it for a bit longer.