[6 minute read]
My dad once mused about which of his 6 kids he loved most: “Whichever one needs it most in the moment.” (I just choked up writing that, like I do every time its memory rises up unbidden.)
In midlife, by a circuitous journey barely just begun — or as old as I — or unknowably older, I’ve stumbled back into that nugget, having tried a few less durable rules of living, like, “One day at a time,” and others.
I wonder how he got so smart.
Do you think he thought it through? I do, but not in his brain. Through his heart. Not by thinking; by living, acting. Responding to whichever grace was put in his face. His mind was plenty capable of profound thought and communication, but methinks his heart was so very much larger.
He was a large man in the second half of his life. He loved his food like he loved his children—-whatever was in front of him at the moment:-) But that seemed to suit him naturally. He lived hard, deep, wide.
I think he had a big ego, but it too suited him—-not so large that it wasn’t easily carried by the expanse of his soul, perpetually opened to humility by force and by choice. I think his soul received and nourished that buoyancy by living hard, deep, and wide—-sometimes by shame exposed, and sometimes by the inexorable tow of his loved ones splashing into his face the forgiveness he wrestled to bestow on his own fallenness.
His family of origin certainly fed who he was. His brother, sisters, and my cousins still feel like a warm place of palpable love, which would provoke envy if it weren’t swallowed up by gratitude and acceptance unconditional — by that very love itself — reflexively evoked.
His life journey collectively was as turbulent as any child’s of God. I barely know the tip of that iceberg, shared by his own reminiscence, and stories from my mom and his siblings… I wish I spent more time with his family in recent years, regret soothed slightly by a couple feelings…
On the rare occasions I did spend time with them in adulthood, it was as if I had barely grown apart. Of course, I have. They have suffered through so many enormous trials I barely knew about, and likely so very many more I don’t at all. I can barely keep spouses’ names straight, let alone children’s! So, how do I still feel connection?
I spent loads of time with them as a kid, after long rides—-8 of us packed into whatever station-wagon Dad purchased for a paltry pittance that year. Enormous gatherings, with personalities (and bodies!) clashing and mixing, every direction—-a tumult which is the cauldron of love and enduring connection, even if unrecognized until later. Those reunions are a gift perpetually imparted by my dad and his siblings, and by my cousins who all receive it and pour it back out.
It is the intangible gift of a large family. Almost too large. When gathered, everywhere you turn is a different face. A different soul. Interesting to you, as you are to them. Intimacy, forged and enabled by the hugely diminished discomfort largely afforded by virtue of common ancestry. Blood bonds. Virtually no pretense.
Surrounded and crowded by those hearts and faces and souls, there was no need for a conscious choice, nor room for the choice’s anxiety about with whom to engage:
The one in front of you.
In the moment.
The benefits and imprints of large family gatherings needn’t be summoned consciously. Nor do lessons I learned from my father. They were written on my heart as they happened. But it’s nice to have a centralized fountain around which each of those imprints can swim:
“Whichever one needs it most in the moment.”
They may not have been conscious choices. But thankfully, gatherings under God’s shelters don’t rely on your choices alone. God makes some for you, and puts in front of you the face God needs you to encounter, to be God’s cooperator, and recipient. For both you and that other face. For God too.
The forging furnace is the warm hearth of our family’s love, and it’s not as simple as mere necessity in a crowded gathering. It’s not as if the free wills of my dad and his siblings were passive. My mom and he took us to the gatherings, and aunts, uncles, and cousins received us into the inner sanctums of their physical and emotional homes. As an insider in such a family, it takes a little awareness to realize that a tight-knit family is not inevitable. There is sad evidence all around. It takes a devoted and active will to sustain and nourish love so rich. That awareness deepens preciousness.
Here’s a thing that must’ve happened many times, because I carry the memories vaguely, compositely. We kids buzzing about the property—-house sided in white in Bear Creek, or green on Diamond Ave. And where the hell are the adults? Aunts, uncles, and stranger-family who appeared at these events…? All gathered around some table, nibbling on peanuts or those Italian things that would taste like fluffed and crisped paper without the powdered sugar.
What in the hell are those weirdo grown-ups doing, sitting all together? For hours! Talking!! How much could there be to talk about, for crying out loud!? That’s not normal.
No. It’s not. I don’t see it often in other families at all. But I do it with my own siblings. That’s the delayed answer. Sitting together, talking, we are loving. We are forging deeper bonds, at the same time as we extract any needed warmth from that fire. Loving. In the moment. Whatever arises. Whoever needs whatever. Widening our souls, and our family’s as a whole…
Meeting each face our eyes behold. Doing unto the least among us who needs a firey embrace most in the moment.
Neil D. (the III!) 2020-05-13
These reflections inspired the 1-minute read, “Dark Night of the Soul (5) – One Simplification”