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This Thanksgiving, NPR listeners reflect on the meaning of family

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

My siblings and their kids are all coming to my house for the holiday. And this is a big deal - not just because I have never in all my adult life cooked Thanksgiving for my whole family, but there is a new emotional weight to all of it. There's a big emptiness. This time a year ago, I was in a hospital watching my dad deteriorate after a sudden problem with his heart. He died a couple of weeks later. My mom's been gone for a long time; she died of cancer 13 years ago and never got a chance to meet my husband or my kids. When you lose your parents, the constellation of your family shifts.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "SPINNING METER")

MARTIN: For me, it's like the stars at the center, the ones that guide you, aren't there anymore. So you have to shift your view, look for light in other places. It's the same thing when family relationships break. You find love and acceptance from other people - friends, even strangers - which is, to me, what Thanksgiving is about - being grateful for the light wherever you find it, appreciating the family you have and the family you choose. We asked our listeners to share some reflections on how you think about family. Has that definition changed? Who brings you light? This is some of what you shared.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "SPINNING METER")

MICAH CALDWELL: Hi, this is Micah Caldwell in Chicago, Ill. Over the past couple of years, my idea of family has changed quite a bit. When the pandemic hit, we decided to move back to the Midwest in order to be closer to our families. And with that transition came a lot of other life developments. We were able to buy our first house, which has allowed us to create something of a family with our neighbors and our community. And it also allowed us to have our first child, which has really brought our families - our extended families - closer to us. And so it's felt like something of a reunion to be back in this place and to have this new little person in our lives. And I can't wait to experience all of these holidays and new experiences through her eyes.

ARITRA: Hi. My name is Aritra. I live in Minneapolis, Minn. It does get tough during the holiday season. Even though I don't celebrate Thanksgiving - I didn't grow up with it - I would see people with their families on social media or they would travel. But the fact of the matter is that my parents can't travel now because of COVID and Visa restrictions and whatnot. So that particular time gets tough. I miss my family. I miss India. I miss the smell. I miss the sound. I miss the food. I miss the language. But my idea of family has not changed. I think it's still the people you call up when you're in trouble.

When I had just moved to Minneapolis, I'd gotten a new bike. And it was cold one night, I was riding it and I parked it somewhere and got stolen. And I was - I started crying. I was alone. And I called up a friend, and he showed up in 15 minutes and he drove me home and he consoled me. And I think that's what family is all about.

WILLIAM: My name's William. I currently live in San Francisco. I always felt like my family was my biological family. I think lately this concept has been changing or I've been challenging it. You know, I've traveled a lot. I've moved around a lot. I - also, my brother, he's a substance abuser, and that has really had a very difficult impact on our family dynamic. You know, a lot of things end up being about him. And, yeah, I went through a very difficult period of my life four years ago where I went through a divorce. I was married, and I felt like I had a family. Yeah, I felt very loved. And after that, my world, after - when I had divorced, my world turned upside down. And I felt very lost. And sometimes I do still feel very lost.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MATTHEW DIAMOND: My name is Matthew Diamond. I currently live in Philadelphia, and I am a proud Uyghur American. I was adopted at the age of 13 by my American parents and family. Now I'm - at the age of 26, my wonderful parents, you know, have shown me so much love and really taught me and showed me what unconditional love was. When I was in the orphanage, the teachers and the workers there had asked me, did I want to be adopted? So in a sense, I did choose to be adopted, and I chose my family. And my family, of course, chose me first.

We don't have a lot of Uyghurs populations around the world where - even in the states. My birth parents, whenever I thought about them, kind of caused me, you know, pain and confusion. I do think about this. You know, what happened to my parents? Where my birth parents are, are they OK in this world? Are they still alive? You know, that part of family, for me, is something I most likely would never know. And it's just something you have to be OK with. And it's - you know, I'm not OK with it, but it's kind of like that saying, you know, it's OK to not be OK. You just kind of have to settle with that. And I wish one day I will be able to see them and be reunited with them.

ROWAN MORGAN: Hello. My name is Rowan Morgan. This year and from here on out, going forward, I will not be in attendance to any of the family gatherings that will be happening. I am no longer a part of that, and that's a decision that I've made for myself that has led me to become more mentally and emotionally well than I have ever been in my entire life. And the family that I have cultivated for myself in the place that I reside now is more supportive and loving and fulfilling than I have ever before experienced.

My little piece of advice is that you don't have to do anything or interact with anybody who makes you feel smaller than who you are. And it doesn't have to be an ugly separation. It can just be something that you say for yourself, and you don't owe justification to anybody else. And the family that you do deserve will come to you. I have experienced it firsthand.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "LANDON DEPOT")

MARTIN: Reflections from some of our listeners about family on this Thanksgiving holiday - the ones we're born into and the ones we choose.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "LANDON DEPOT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.