We stood around the kitchen island, the last of the pizza getting cold, laughing and talking. It was as if we were trying to find things to keep talking about about so this day, these moments, this precious time we had shared together wouldn't end. I found myself in the familiar place of trying to remember everything about the moment I was in. The light in the kitchen, the sound of my Auntie's laugh, the smile on my dad's face. Everything, right down to the three pieces of uneaten pizza and leftover birthday cake from the day's earlier celebrations, was logged into my memory of this day I had spent with loved ones. I didn't want to forget a single second of it.
I almost felt frantic about needing to record and document the day with pictures and videos, feeling a desperation to keep the memories safe and close and alive with me after this day was long gone. I blew up my Instagram and Facebook and cell phone and camera with everything I could. I wanted to keep it all and remember it all and hold it all. Because it was all glorious and all beautiful and all wonderful and I was so hoping that it would be.
Over the years, I've learned how important memories are to me - creating them, remembering them, holding them safe. After all, memories are all I really have left of my mother and it's from that wounded place, I live and I mother. I've discovered that it's because of this, I take pictures and keep a blog and try to memorize moments because I want to give something I didn't have to my boys. If something were to ever happen to me, I would want them to see, tangibly see, that they were loved, and to know who I was. I guess because I've lived so much of my adult life doubting her love for me and hungering to have known her more deeply, it's something I don't want my children to have to bear. I guess I don't want them to have to hurt like I've had to hurt and maybe as parents, that's all we ever want for our kids.
This particular Saturday was one for the record books. It was a monumental occasion. And my memory-keeping went into overdrive.
Our entire family was all together for one single day. It was a grand family reunion that included a special time with my Aunt, Uncle and cousins who all flew in from Minnesta to see us. I spent much of the week with them myself, but for one single day, every uncle and cousin and great-grandchild was present under one roof. Something that hasn't happened in our family in over seven years.
As we sat around singing together while my dad and Uncle Brad strummed on guitars, I was overwhelmed with tears in the beauty of the moment. All of us present, being near one another, worshiping God through song. In a single moment I sat there feeling very aware of my mother's absence, the pain of the past I carry with me, the longings I hold, the tension and dynamics of our combined relationships as a family, and the glory of this very minute I was in. Sometimes, I feel so heavy with all that my heart is awake to feel - the beauty and the pain, the glory and the sorrow, the weight of enormous ambivalence. But it's all there to feel and I've learned not to ignore or even be afraid of the things that gnaw at me, but welcome them in and embrace them. I feel the feelings and let them go. And with all of us present that day, there was much to feel.
Mostly, our day together reminded me of days gone by. Memories from years ago of togetherness and fullness of love and family. I remember my childhood being full of many large family gatherings that included singing and eating and celebrating and just how good it felt to be and laugh and play together. Perhaps I romanticize some of those memories and bits and pieces of my youth, but there were those bits and pieces that were very, very good. Those bits, those pieces - they will always be true. They happened and I remember them.
As we said our goodbyes that evening, I couldn't help but wonder if this was the very last time we would ever be able to make a gathering like this happen again. If we waited another seven years before we were together, would my Grandparents still be alive? Would everyone still live close by? Who might move away? My Aunt and Uncle are moving to Iraq next month to pastor a church there (yes, you did read that correctly). With all of us knowing what is happening in that part of the world right now, most of us hugged their necks goodbye with desperate hope that we would see them again. My sister leaves next week to start school in Santa Fe. Another cousin is off for college. With marriage and children and jobs and health and how crazy it is to follow Jesus sometimes, none of us can know where life or death or God will take any of us in the coming months or years.
As we all trickled out the door that night, I said goodbye to my family, but I also said goodbye to our togetherness. As it very well could be the last of the gatherings with everyone present.
Our time together is now a memory A beautiful moment we shared and one that I will hold in my heart for a very long time. Being all together again sounded like a dozen harmonies and from-the-gut-laughter. And it was as sweet and soft as the tears that fell down my Grammy's beautiful, aging cheeks.