We received a new "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book the other day at the office.
You remember "Chicken Soup," don't you? They are compilations of short stories, usually submitted by regular folk like you and me, centered around a particular theme. The stories are often inspirational, always positive.
Chicken soup — for the soul. Get it?
Someone gave me the volume that was about golf. I got a kick out of the one about lessons learned from the family dog. There are lots of "Chicken Soups" about miracles, redemption, etc.
The book that came this week is "Chicken Soup for the Soul — My Crazy Family." It got me to thinking about why so many stories and columns (yes, this one) are about family members.
Almost every time we're in a social situation with new people, someone comes up to my wife, Maria, and says something like "I feel as though I know you." She smiles and bears it, knowing that person only knows what I've written about her in this space. Sometimes she likes the interaction, sometimes she doesn't.
This is supposed to be a personal column where I try to convince you, faithful reader, that I'm an actual person — full of feelings, foibles and failures just like everyone else. And, just like everyone else, my family defines a good chunk of who I am.
So I write about Maria. I write about our children — hers and mine. I love to write about the grandchildren those kids have blessed us with.
I write about our dogs, our yard, just about anything that qualifies as family.
I think we all find it easy to tell stories about their family simply because that's what we know best. We live it, after all.
It's also a little easier to offer up funny stories about family members than it is to jest about strangers. I guess there's an assumption that the family will forgive us far before a stranger will.
That's not always true, by the way. I'm always on the lookout for those invisible lines that shouldn't be crossed.
I'm aware that those who visit this space often can grow tired of stories about the Saltzgaver clan. So over the years I've expanded my "family" to the groups I've been privileged to join, up to and including the community of Long Beach as a whole.
That makes sense — I think of many of these groups as family members. Here's an example.
Early on in my stay here at the Grunion, I was fortunate enough to become involved in the arts community of Long Beach. I've always loved theater, so I gravitated to caryn and Shashin at International City Theatre, Paul at Musical Theatre West, Cynthia and Virginia at The Found, the Daggetts and the rest at the Playhouse, and more. But I also was able to learn about classical music and modern art, dance and culture. The scene became family, and I wrote about it often.
Just like a young adult ultimately moves away from mom and dad, touching base less frequently to expand horizons, I found myself increasingly involved in other interests. Thank goodness I've been able to maintain most of my art connections too, but new families beckoned.
There was/is the Grace Community Church. Smaller charities serving those in need — Precious Lamb Preschool and WomenShelter stand out — demanded attention. Ramping up in scale, I embraced, and was embraced by, the Goodwill SOLAC family.
The many, many nonprofits and city employees working to alleviate homelessness became another extended family — one that requires increasing attention today. And don't get me started about the real family at Parks and Recreation, the Water Department and others serving our community.
And we've reached the conclusion of this little tale. It's the realization that I think of our entire community as family. To be sure, I'm not fond of a few of those family members, and I know well I'm not the favorite cousin for many in the community. But in the end, we're all hoping for, working for the best family we can be.
Hey, that might be a good city slogan. Long Beach — One Big Family.
How's that for some chicken soup for our collective soul?