Ah, where to begin?
I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write. I find myself confused by the pace of change, in myself and the world around me. My conscious brain is a passenger on a high-speed train that whirs carelessly through the crags and fields of what my soul is learning, being, so that I am left with only a vague impression of my own heart state. Perhaps you’ll cut me some slack when I say I’m unsure what to tell myself of late, late alone you. But it can never hurt to begin with the bare facts of things- which will give you a lively idea of the things percolating in my brain of late! With the boys both moving out, a lot of it has been a lovely, ridiculous round of family tradition, memories and last minute togetherness. So, I’ve decided to give you a glimpse of life in the present via my three favorite lasts.
Last Family Day: This is our yearly tradition of taking a day in which to mark how God has “made his face to shine upon us”, a day of remembrance for us, specifically as a family. The twofold purpose is wrapped around a theme of celebration; joy in our God, joy in each other. The day always begins with the spiritual side; after we have all been sufficiently placated with cinnamon rolls, my dad always the passage in Joshua where the Israelites cross the Jordan river and set up twelve stones in remembrance of God’s goodness. We then make a list of blessings that constitutes a figurative pile of sacred rocks for our family. When we were little, we actually used permanent markers to draw pictures of our blessings on river rocks collected from my grandmother’s land. Now, the blessings are simply compiled on a single piece of paper in my dad’s strong, angular writing, and stowed in a flame red notebook that is the record of our deepest joys. We end with prayer; each thanking God for whatever has most elated and deepened our hearts in the past year.
The afternoon bit is more about family identity. In this part of the day, we all become inflexible traditionalists. Especially now that we have lived in the same place for four years, we demand that every year follow the same pattern. Around noon, we pack our beat up old sky blue cooler and ourselves into the car (which makes for pretty crowded conditions when there’s more than two six-foot tall guys to consider) and head up into the mountains to a state park about an hour away. On this hour long drive up through cliffs, by a river and through a fir forest, it is absolutely indispensable that we listen to something by Rich Mullins, and have at least one good family discussion (this might be known as an argument in other cultures, but oh, not ours). We then slip and stumble down a pine needle trail to our usual picnic table where we feast upon the absolutely traditional lunch of fried chicken, deviled eggs, baked beans, and Texas sheet cake. This is followed by a long ramble that usually involves half of us exploring the woods while the other half cajoles any breathing creature into taking and posing for about three million artistic photos. There’s just something about those aspens that inspires the artists and the dreamers in us all.
Last Family Evening: Though rather a generic “last”, the rhythm of our evenings is so much a part of my family’s identity that I have to list it as an integral part of us. We begin it with a feast (yes, we like good food in my family, and when the boys are requesting for special, it’s steak). And we treat it as a feast, almost every night, lighting candles, setting some new music to trill in the background, one of the girls carefully setting the table. With the spice of good food soon flows the spice of good conversation. There are times when this becomes overwhelming; one of Joy’s friends who hails from a rather smaller and more reserved family once asked “does your family ever STOP talking?” We aren’t that noisy, in fact, half of us are introverts, but we are all intuitive idealists who think our thoughts are vital to the wellbeing of the earth. Dinner conversation usually flows seamlessly into an evening walk, where we continue the chosen topic to the backdrop splendor of spruce and fir and darkling, starlit sky. When the dusk finally gets its hands round our brains, we quiet a bit, breathe, and share a companionship of looking that is really as good as any talking. And then home; for coffee, for a movie, for candlelight and reading or yet another discussion. I suppose in the end, we had several of these before the boys left, but I tasted them more with the spice of parting added to my palate.
And that’s that. One of you so sweetly commented that I ought to write about my family, and I guess bits like this are the beginning. Someday, I would like to scratch us all out in ink, our fun and flaws, our griefs and gladnesses and what we managed to create together. There was a rather hysterical scene a couple of weeks ago when one of us kids was calling home from far away and didn’t realize we were on speaker phone (no, it wasn’t me) with more than just mom and dad. Thus, all three remaining siblings crept into the room and heard the full import of the absent sibling’s heart and, well, escapades. Only at the end did said sibling hear a suspicious scratch and suddenly bellow, “hey, who else is in the room?”, at which we all scurried out like mice so that my mom could honestly, innocently, answer, “why, it’s just Dad and me.” “But I heard voices,” came back the rather suspicious answer.
And so he did. Wouldn’t it be a shame if he hadn’t? It came to me today, as I was thinking about all the lasts we have lived in the past week, that that was what we were creating with all our traditions, a circle of voices and memories and words and traditions that will surround every soul that ventures out from the familiar confines of “us”. There’s a grand comfort in having a host of snap-eyed siblings to spy on you and eavesdrop on your most candid conversations. It is a gift; to hear voices, however irritating, is to know yourself encircled, never left to the echoing emptiness of isolation. That’s what I want to write about someday, the grace of having a clamor of voices in your life, and it’s what I’ve been thinking of in these quieter days after the parting. I’m gonna start the story one of these days…