Latin. noun. yearning for the family of your heart
When I say philcardiofamilia, I don’t refer to the impulsive, annoyed fit of, “No one understands me.” Rather, I trace the boundaries of a particular but, I’m convinced, common longing to be part of another family. Sometimes, I am drawn to other families because they affirm something in me I thought was a defect. Other times it’s because they saturate me in grace and generosity and refill my guarded heart. Either way, before long, I want to belong with their memories, the same way someone might want to borrow my family’s precious recollections of illegal backyard chickens and an amateur obsession with home videos.
Isn’t it weird that we don’t have a word to bridge that gap in our belonging? Alienation from friend circles, uncertainty in places of worship, insecurity at work—I know how to describe these sentiments because we usually recognize them as legitimate. But I know of no concise way to talk about loving another family like you love your own.
I avoid expressing philcardiofamilia because it exposes the outline of my scars. In this vulnerable position, guilt floods my mind, as do well-intentioned outsiders’ suggestion that I’m ungrateful. I’m not—I am just sensitive to how our earthly bonds are wrapped in as much goodness as brokenness.
I wonder too how much my hesitancy to be honest stems from an idealization of strength. Just as I perceive how insistence on strength limits men, I witness how women, too, receive a narrative that they must be consistently strong and powerful. Don’t get me wrong, the resilience of women—Ida B. Wells, my mother, others—inspires me. But to base respect only on remarkable strength caricatures away our finiteness, our need for community, and the uncomfortable truth that all of us—men and women—are fragile when it comes to belonging. In Communion: The Female Search for Love, author and activist bell hooks proposes that it is not power but the “communion in love our souls seek [that] is the most heroic and divine quest any human can take.” I am done pretending I don’t need to belong anywhere or that professional success alone will complete me.
No matter the state or trajectory of blood family ties, my friends and I are learning to be honest about our need for chosen family. This honesty directs me toward relationships with older people. For while friends my age rekindle joy, older mentors are uniquely powerful and poignant. In the absence of living grandparents, they are anchors when I am emotionally adrift at sea. Through our shared values, I am linked to a lineage that invites my generational contribution and looks upon me with pride.
As I’ve sought new relationships over the past four years, frustration and a sense that I’m “too late” has often tempted me into withdrawal. In moments of despair, I remember a dear friend’s gentle reflection: “You are a bird.” After glancing skeptically at my arms, I understood. Birds—creatures of fragility and endurance—dedicate whole seasons to nesting or migrating, over and over again. Sometimes I feel detached and distant knowing each relationship is a new nest I might eventually depart. But my flight pattern allows me to glimpse what others struggle to see: the importance of solidarity and inclusion, and the surprising ties that link us beyond blood.
I find restorative love in these ties, even as I caution my heart that they, too, will be imperfect and not pain-free. Raw from past experiences, I will gasp for breath even during stitching. I will battle against my own impatience and distrust as I remember that people are not exchangeable puzzle pieces. It will take years to chart the holy middle between hyperindividualism and co-dependence from Somali-British poet Warsan Shire’s verse, “You can’t make homes out of human beings.” Yet I choose to venture in the uncertain emotional topography of chasms and cordilleras. Despite past hurts, this bird is not afraid of seeking roots while growing wings.
Comfort Sampong’s heart is sparked by fried plantains, tropical foliage and the stories of women thriving and creating a way out of no way. She graduated in 2018 with majors in economics and international development. Now she lives in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where she works on English communications for the Association for a More Just Society, a Honduran non-profit fighting for justice and peace.