What Today Brings
“The most important thing in the world is family and love.” John Wooden
I have been reading Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg. It’s a tragic novel about a woman, June Reid, who on the eve of her daughter’s wedding suffers the unimaginable loss of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband and her boyfriend after a house fire caused by an ancient gas stove. The story is told through several narrators, June, the mother of June’s boyfriend, gossipy townspeople and a few characters on the periphery of the fallen family but full of insights about who they all were. Most horrifying is that this woman is expected to continue living after everyone and everything is ripped away from her. The solemn, quiet, ghost-like way she does survive, the beachfront motel at the other end of the country she retreats to hide from the unspeakable, points to an inconvenient truth about our existence. This past Sunday the massacre at a Texas church left many people crushed, the very ground they walk on, the very reasons for their existence, their family, was ripped away by a madman.
Most of us, thankfully, will never be confronted with such a magnificent loss. The fact that such tragedy has touched others and will rear its ugly head on an unlucky few in the future has made me especially grasping of the time left and particularly demanding of those left.
I have always had a romantic vision of family. By all accounts, I have been extraordinarily lucky. The closeness to my mother has been a gift as was the relationship with my brother and father before their passing. Both grandmothers were shining examples of womanhood, sources of comfort and everything a little girl could wish for. Both grandfathers were great men and while not sources of great comfort, they were certainly sources of protection and support. I have a good relationship with most cousins, aunts and uncles so why then am I greedy for more? Why do I want to whip remaining family members into submission, lasso them into a compound of love and respect, insisting we protect each other… until death do us part?
It wasn’t always this way. I can remember a time in my late twenties when I had had enough of family for a lifetime. In a questionnaire about who you would want to attend your last supper, none of my family members made the cut. I chose Joni Mitchell, Tennessee Williams and John Lennon. That’s twenty-eight-year-old me for you, naïve, impressionable and kind of bitter. My mom, dad and brother were not invited to my last supper. Twenty something years later, the only people I want at my last supper are my family.
When several of us moved back to Kentucky in our fifties, I imagined some sort of weekly pow wow of recapping our silly journeys that brought us finally home where we can now hunker down and ease gently and together into old age. “Don’t expect too much.” My Aunt Mimi said. I always expect too much. I suppose to the point of being emotionally greedy. I did so well in theatrical environments, when everyone had a shared goal of a play or a movie. A quick family is developed for the duration of the task at hand and it’s all for one and one for all. Those made up families ultimately split up and if you are lucky, life-long friendships develop. I have many friends who only had those made up families but they have been just as real and provided the same amount of togetherness as the ones a lot of us are born into. Life in a traveling circus is a missed vocation that would have suited my personality just fine.
I suppose what today brings for me is a sense that I need to loosen the reigns, take what I have been given, be grateful and love. My relatives all spread apart, some in Versailles, some in Lexington, as far west as San Francisco and Arizona and as far south as North Carolina and Alabama.
The book hit me hard as most good books do. Now I want to be thankful for each and every personality that has joined me for the journey. I am changing every day, hopefully for the better. I wish everyone in our community and beyond, the comforts of home during the holiday season. Like the Rolling Stones sang, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you find you get what you need.” I realize for the moment, I have everything I need.
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