I just spent three days back “home” at my nephew’s wedding. Most of the people present are friends and family with whom I share twenty, thirty, or forty years of history. And some of us know each other’s family stories for four or five generations. I found myself repeatedly surprised by how intensely moving it was to spend this concentrated time of celebration and re-connection. The wonderful celebration was mixed with grief for those no longer present, as well as past opportunities missed.
At the rehearsal dinner and wedding reception we introduced our spouses and our children to one another. We oriented each other with our most recent connections to people and places and work. We ate, and laughed, and danced, and toasted the newlyweds. We evaluated the DJ. We even updated cell phone numbers.
At breakfast my cousin began telling a story referencing a butte and a mountain pass, and I realized that each of us “natives” sitting there at table were able to actively picture the land in our minds eye. We traveled with him across that particular span of some 100 miles of ranch country. Then we mentally toured the area as others shared their own stories. We shared accomplishments, foibles, and struggles. We took turns poking fun at ourselves, and our loved ones. I laughed, and felt like crying all at the same time.
I heard myself sharing one of my favorite Thomas Merton stories. (After some time as a novice in the monastery, Merton asked his novice master “how am I doing?” The novice master answered, ”It is none of your business how you are doing.”)
And at one point I had a few moments to talk with a child, who I had just met, about the USA versus Brazil soccer match. He told me about which position he liked to play in soccer, and how much he wanted to be home in time to watch the next match on ESPN.
As we got up from the table, I wondered if we might even have started a little bit of new history with this newest generation. It all felt like too much, and not enough, at the same time.
As my husband and I drove across three states to our current home, it finally struck me that this weekend had been a concentrated embodiment of both stability and hospitality. For each of us knows the good, and the bad, of each other’s history. We know the places. We know those who have died, and we know what they mean to those present. For each one to make the effort to come and celebrate, and then to trust each other with both the old and the new stories of our lives is no small thing. We shared our hopes, and our grief, and we welcomed the next generation. We trusted that even though some of us may be separated by distance for an undetermined period of time, we still hold each other, and our stories in our hearts.
We will remember and we will return.