Tristan Ludlow lunged in front of his stroke-stricken father, Colonel William Ludlow, unable to fathom another loss after his wife and younger brother. His ragged, gurgled bawl clogged his throat of his stoic demeanor. A piercing shot cracked through the sky and Tristan’s arched arms remained frozen in the air. His face fell. But the corrupt police officer’s body slumped to the copper dirt instead. Tristan and Colonel Ludlow gazed around only to find their estranged brother and son, Alfred, lowering his rifle. A hit of realization tore apart both their chests, exposing their hearts to the cool, cleansing air. Tristan walked forward, paused, and stared into his brother’s sad, disbelieving cerulean eyes. Alfred gave Tristan a saluting, considerate nod, as if to say, “We’re brothers.” Colonel Ludlow then marched forward alongside both his sons and grumbled “Hey.” He scrutinized Alfred with a raised, judgmental chin. Alfred stared back at his father in fear and hurt, unsure of whether he’d be granted the acceptance and integration back into his family he so longed desired. His father sprung forward and wrapped his arms around his son, holding him tight in an embrace. Alfred’s eyes went wide with surprise for half a second before shutting them tight in eager, teary acceptance of his father’s renewed respect and love. The two clenched their eyes shut even harder, their crows’ feet spreading across each ones’ temples, never wanting the moment to end. Chuckles of agonizing love amidst their heartfelt reunion make the viewer’s chin quiver.
That’s the scene that resonates with me from 1994’s Legends of the Fall. But it isn’t
because of a fine-looking, long-haired Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, the sandstone and fur coats, the cowboy hats, the dialogue, the acting, the tension, the emotional catharsis, or the grand crescendo of the scene’s track. It’s the admirable love of the value of family. And it’s also the question of the value of family it raises in today’s American society.
Whether it’s moving away, cutting family off, betraying one another, worrying only about oneself, etc., all I see is an emphasized stride towards disconnected families. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes an individual has no choice but to move away to grow and make a life for oneself. Or when you sometimes have to cut people out of one’s life if they only bring sorrow and negativity as opposed to joy and positivity to one’s life. I get that. But what I’m talking about is value of family that many have the ability to sow beneath their feet but are neglectful and unappreciative of it— the isolation that many Americans willfully embrace.
One side of that coin of isolation comes from a disconnect from one’s family. As
opposed to other cultures, families here are quite small. They may be biologically large, but the active, watered ties remain small. I see the individual, the spouse, the children, and the friends. And that’s it. Extended family or even immediate family at times is simply a side-dish to some people. Of course, not all families are like this. And maybe I’m just being sensitive because I’m used to placing a high value into family thanks to growing up in Lebanese culture. But it can’t be a coincidence to see it so common across society and the country.
The other side of the coin is the degradation of the value of family. To others, family simply isn’t anything of value to them. Have a fight with someone? ‘Oh well, cut them out.’ Aging parents? ‘They’re adults. They can manage themselves.” Not keeping in contact with family? “We’re busy with our own problems.” Never visiting family anymore? “We were never close to begin with.” Never supporting each other? “Everyone needs to learn how to toughen up.” Taking advantage of one another? “It’s for their own good after I raised them.” Secretly praying for one another’s downfall out of jealousy? “They were ungrateful and undeserving of what they were given.” Stop. Just stop.
What happened to the beauty of family?
The beauty of the parents watching their daughter blossom, marry, and then start a family of her own? The beauty of the parents being alongside their daughter and her family as they grow and travel? And the beauty of the daughter loving their company?
The beauty of the siblings that forgive and love? The beauty of siblings that help one another out as a family rather than individuals? The beauty of siblings that are always there for one another?
The beauty of family that calls one another to stay connected? The beauty of family that loves to visit just to see each other? The beauty of family that just wants to see you happy? The beauty of family that rushes to one another’s side in times of hardships? The beauty of the family that holds your hand in support of your pursuits and dreams? The beauty of family that empathizes with you? The beauty of family that rages when you rage, and loves when you love? The beauty of family as a priority? The beauty of family that’s there for another for no other reason than to love you?
What happened to the beauty of the value of family? The beauty of respect— of courage—of loyalty—of dignity—of honor—of morals—of the pride we’d protect each other with and die for?
What have we become? To have strayed so far away from the love our parents and ancestors taught us to ignite and wrap around our fingertips for each other?