Sunday, October 18, 2009

CLIMBING THE FAMILY TREE

Facebook, bringing friends, family and total strangers together.

Recently, there's been an emphasis on the latter two, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive. All of a sudden, alleged relatives -- people I don't know who don't know me either -- are flocking to my friends list. I know they must be family because Helligar is not exactly a surname that grows on trees.

Occasionally, they send me messages (like an uncle who recently, inexplicably, sent me the link to a hip-hop video), but the majority of them never do. Part of me is curious and wants to know more about these people. Another part of me doesn't know what to say to them. Small talk frightens me, and I've never been particularly skilled at striking up random conversation with strangers, unless it's in a professional interview setting. Aside from the fact that we have branches on the same family tree, they are as unknown to me as the folks who add me to their friends list simply because I "look pretty cool."

Today I was befriended by my stepbrother, the son of my dad's wife whom I met at my brother's wedding five and a half years ago and quite liked. So that connection makes sense. Not so much the message I received several months ago from a woman living in Belgium with the maiden name Heylligar. Since she has relatives from the Netherlands, and my dad is from St. Maarten, a Caribbean island with a Dutch and a French side, we decided after several email exchanges that we must be distantly related. Then nothing. We are still Facebook friends, but we never spoke again.

Which brings me to the money question: What's the big deal about being family if there is zero communication? Is it just enough to know that the person exists? As someone whose relationships within my immediate family range from strained to non-existent (excepting my brother Alexi, to whom I remain close), I'm not particularly driven to communicate with people on branches of my family tree that extend too far up or down the trunk from my own. At least I lived in the same house with most of my immediate family for 18 years and had proper exposure to most of my parents' siblings and assorted cousins during my childhood. The others are complete strangers. Of course, I'll continue to pad my friends list by accepting their Facebook invitations, and then we'll completely ignore each other.
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