In Greek mythology King Gordius of Phrygia tied a knot that thwarted all who tried to undo it. The term Gordian Knot is thus often used to describe a problem that is difficult to solve. I think, however, that this complex and highly intricate knot is a good description of what is commonly referred to as a family tree.

A family tree is more than who married whom and who begat who; it is about family relationships that develop as each of us in turn ‘enters’ new families through marriage, create our own families of children, who then merge with other families as their relationships develop. In the manner of the Gordian Knot, the kinship ties and family relationships become ever more intricately entwined. Have you ever tried to draw a family tree going back a generation or two, or even plotted your own?

Consider what, apart from love, goes into these filial ties: absorbing patterns of living different from what we might be used to; introducing new foods, customs or languages; learning new stories; and getting on with people who have become family even in the peripheral sense. All of these relationships require nurturing as the threads of kinship and association are tightened here, loosened there, and allowed more freedom elsewhere. It is in the nature of a Gordian Knot that it will be tugged and pushed – as families are – without easily coming apart.

I do not see family in terms of the Gordian Knot being a problem – the spaces between the threads allow us to be individuals, and to follow our own interests – that can simply be torn asunder as Alexander the Great did by cutting the knot with a single stroke of his sword (hence the saying “to cut the Gordian Knot”) – who would want to?

Having spent time this year with my brothers and recently enjoying the presence of our children and theirs together in celebration, I feel blessed that while this particular Gordian Knot is changing shape and expanding, it holds true with no fear of unravelling!



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