There is something wonderful about a family reunion. Surveying a crowd and recognizing my own gene pool both chastens and rejuvenates me. It can be a bit off-putting and still carry a familiarity that is comforting.
My next-oldest sister loved reunions. From the time we were young parents she tried to get the sisters together with their families, opening her home and doing (I can see in retrospect) an enormous amount of work to make it all possible. Whether it was a gathering of the sisters or the occasion of out-of-town aunts and uncles visiting, she created the opportunity for the generations to look both ways; to catch a glimpse of their history and their future.
Now I am part of the history. My two remaining sisters, my husband, and the husband of one long-gone sister are the carriers of memories. In spite of our sometimes slipping grip on our short-term lives, we are asked to verify and to validate for the younger ones. We are the grounding representatives of times past, the living link to those who have passed on. It is our job to look each person in the eye and see them for who they are; to give them the family blessing of continuance.
It’s hard now to remember my angst about reunions, when I felt that I must somehow “represent” and that the face of my representation might crumble in the greater face of the older generation. Was I enough? Were my children enough? Was I alone or could I retrieve my own husband from the gathering of men who visited to the side of this huge family of women and hold him miserably near me to shore me up in the test I created for myself. I didn’t realize that to most of the family, being whoever I was at the time was the best of all.
And then there were the years when I was too bored with the concept to interrupt the captivating and immediate life of my husband and children, to tear myself away and share it with that other, less connected group of family. How could those distances be traveled, wasting the precious moments enjoyed in the hubbub of my daily life? I didn’t realize that I was depriving my kids of that sense of being a part of something greater and varied and rich in its weave of diversity.
It was the grandchildren who brought me back. When my first sister died, I realized that connections between our children were weakened from years of distance. And that our children’s children would not recognize each other if they played in the same park. That seemed a travesty.
I understood the finality of a heartbeat that ends our connections to people who have a reason to care about us and who can pave our way to love and acceptance. And it is the recognition of ourselves in others that can pave our way to love and acceptance of ourselves. Our common thread can be a lifeline.
Now, if at all possible I go to family reunions.
In India, family reunions are not organised in a formal way. Instead of that we have our method of meeting many family members during our elaborate wedding ceremonies. If one is geographically located in the same city, usually Chennai in my case, it is possible to meet all cousins, uncles, aunts, grand nephews, nieces etc in such functions. I rarely go because I live at a sufficiently long distance from Chennai and am forgiven. What I do is to catch up with as many of them as possible during my visits to Chennai usually once in two years, My siblings and I however meet at least once in two years when my brother who lives in London comes down to India. With the advent of group emails, we are however able to keep in touch and increasingly the news is about one of our generation kicking the bucket. There is only one member of our preceding generation and her husband left from that generation and they are not in any condition to move out of their son’s home in Chennai. The next to me generation is not as closely connected as we are to our cousins and that is a shame.
I think weddings and funerals are the most common get-togethers here. Birthdays can get us together if they are note-worthy ones. I do think that as the oldest generations die off, it is harder for the next one to keep the younger ones in touch. Life is like that.
Always good to learn more of your life, Ramana.