"Thought for today:
"Yesterday was the last day of the month of February. I have often wondered, were I a centenarian and say I'd been born during a Leap Year on February 29th, would I be entitled to receive a card from the queen after a hundred years of life or would I still be officially regarded as being only 25-years-old; having experienced only twenty-five February 29th since my birth?
This got me thinking about the rarest of creatures on the planet and that led my mind onto the most unique of things to touch us during our life.
How few of us have ever heard of the Maned Wolf? Not many I suspect. In spite of its appearance and name, it is neither fox nor wolf. The Maned Wolf, which is native to South America is actually the only known surviving member of the Chrysocyon genus and is not closely related to any living canid (any of a family (Canidae) of carnivorous animals that includes the wolves, jackals, foxes, coyote, and the domestic dog). It is virtually extinct and exists today without any close family members of its species. It shared a common ancestor with the Falklands Island Wolf around six million years ago.
This creature got me thinking what it must be like to have no existing ancestral line or close family members alive today; to have no parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts or cousins alive, no wife or husband with whom there is a natural blood bond. I didn't have to think too long or hard as to what had been the most needed of all things in my life; to belong to a loving family in my childhood, adulthood and old age.
'Family' has always been important to me and I strongly suspect, you also. Whenever asked what legacy my parents left me when they died, I have no hesitation in replying, 'My six brothers and sisters, along with the knowledge that they loved me every day of my life, and told me so.'
It matters not whether we call it clan, tribe or family; we all need one to feel a whole person with our past, present and future because whatever we are usually runs in the family. Being brought up in a healthy family gets us used to personal problems and conflict that we can relate to. Having a family member that is autistic, disabled, manic depressive, addictive to this or that; indeed any kind of person more usually found in a minority group, helps us better understand such people types when we encounter them outside the family.
Family is one of nature's finest masterpieces in the making; a link to our past, the purpose of our presence and a bridge to our future. Far too often these days people tend to place too much emphasis upon giving one's child a surfeit of material things. No family can ever be so poor as to not pay attention to the needs of each other. Lots of love, oodles of understanding and sufficient sensitivity to their feelings is all they require to grow up as strong swimmers in the river of respect. Be in no doubt; a family is the best support system ever devised through any union ever known.
I always feel exceptionally sad for those people, who often, through no fault of their own, never felt loved by their parents growing up or who hasn't spoken to a particular family member for many years because of some dispute. When bad blood between brother and brother flows within a family, the nucleus of civilisation between all family members becomes polluted and can become poisonous. In such circumstances, the family unit becomes like a deserted park where parents and children have stopped having fun together.
I know that in close-knit families there is a bond of 'togetherness' so strong that no outsider will ever separate. If only all newly-wed couples could come to appreciate this, there would be few arguments and fall outs about 'the in-laws', as it is the most natural thing in the world for a child to be close to their mum and dad, even though too much love and protection still exercised by the mum of your spouse can prove an almighty irritant and pain in the butt.
You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you as you are to them; not only an important thing, but everything! As the eldest of seven children, like all first born I spent many of my earlier years in the role of protector to my siblings and looking out for them. It has been one of the warmest of presents in my current illness to know that during the latter part of my life, along with my wife Sheila, they now look out for me.
A number of years ago while holidaying in Ireland where I was born, my vacation was cut short when my cousin Teresa in County Kilkenny suddenly died. I travelled to the funeral, which like all Irish funerals was held to mark the burial of a saint and a scholar. In the crowded pub where some of the funeral attendees gathered afterwards, I was standing back to back with two men. The older one was telling the other that Paddy Forde was the finest footballer ever to come out of Kilkenny and to go on and play for Ireland. As they were talking about my father I was naturally interested enough to continue eavesdropping. The younger man replied, 'He was my father's brother you know, and with my sister Teresa gone, I have no Forde family left.'
At this stage of the conversation, my cousin John was starting to sound like a Maned Wolf whose family line was now extinct. I introduced myself and we have laughed and joked about the incident ever since. All my brothers and sisters have embraced John as 'one of our own' along with his beautiful wife Lynne and we now maintain regular contact.
Which brings me to a saying of my dearly departed mother to end with when she said to me, 'Billy, if you're Irish, it doesn't matter where you go in the world; you'll always find family close by.' " William Forde: March 1st, 2017.