Sphere of Influence
I have decided that I don’t like “family trees.”
I started seeing a counselor after losing my job to deal with some of the stress. At first I wasn’t too convinced I liked him. He told me on the first day that counseling was like visiting the Grand Canyon. That, he was my tour guide, he had already been to the Grand Canyon and could show me the way, but I had to do my own walking…. So, I started out not too impressed.
But, after seeing him a few times, he has really grown on me. He gave me an assignment a few weeks ago. I was supposed to do a genealogy during the session, and as I wrote someone’s name down talk about them. First of all, there are way too many people in my family to get done in one session.
I actually love homework, so I asked him if I could work on it at home. He hates giving homework and was Leary- but he sent me home with his pen- apparently he thought I needed to finish with the same pen I started with. Anyway, I looked at this sheet where I was supposed to write down my family lineage- it didn’t have a hokey tree that I was supposed to write on the branches- so I appreciated that.
Here is my issue with family trees… my family is, well, like many families- convoluted and complicated… putting my great-grandparents and all the way down the line- does not, in anyway, really express my “family tree.”
My family has always been made up of friends and people who were not technically family- yet they were often times more family than not. So, anyway- I changed the assignment- I made a “sphere of influence” sheet.
I wrote the time frame of when someone came into my life (childhood, high school, and adulthood) and then drew a dotted line down the page until the time frame when that person left my life and then drew a bold line to indicate that relationship ended. If the person is still in my life the dotted line reaches the end of the page. I put a sunburst around the names of people where their departure from my life was particularly painful or complicated. I also made space for people that I didn’t consider friends or family, but who deeply influenced my life- good or bad.
The map is really crowded in some places and really sparse at others. I recall times of feeling really alone and times of feeling really surrounded, but it was really interesting to see that visually.
The map kind of looks like a rainstorm- there are dotted lines raining down and then breaks in the page with sunbursts that look like crashes of lightening. Rainstorm or not, it’s my life and I am glad it is my life. As odd as it sounds, I am glad I have my convoluted story and the people who make it.
It is really something to see all these influential relationships laid out on one big sheet of paper…. It has been an interesting exercise no doubt. It is interesting to see where some relationships start, and where they end or grow to. There is a deep array of emotions that come with this project-but mostly there is a freedom in visually articulating the things my heart has already felt: friendship-family-loss-brokenness- bonding.
I am going to further challenge myself in this project and below each name I am going to write only one word. Anyone who knows me knows that brevity is not my strong suit (well, readers I am sure you have figured that out too). But, I want to put one emotion under each name. I made a bunch of copies of the map of influence, so the words can change. I think doing this every few months will be a good gage of where I am with my relationships and where I am with my past. It will be interesting too to see if any of the emotion words change- I hope so- I think that would be an indication of growth, of life lived.
Well, dear readers, I am off to do some introspection. Might I challenge you to take on a similar project? What would your “sphere of influence” look like? Would it differ from your family tree? What do you think of family trees? Have you ever done an assignment like this that pushed you to look inward? Did you like it? Was it successful? Please share your stories with me.