Saturday, June 14, 2014

Family Reunion, Looking Through Old Albums

The albums spread out in front of me span almost one hundred years. They are neatly laid out on a bed, soon to be divided among siblings. For a brief time I am alone with them, paging through. Touching and not-touching all these lives.

My perspective on age has changed, as well as my understanding of time. The vertical threads between generations are more and more visible, as are the horizontal ones—those between brother and sister, sister and sister, cousin and cousin. They are loose, but long. Strong. They allow a great-aunt to ask, “Do you think it would be okay if I gave you a goodnight kiss?” and a child to answer, “Yes, because you are family.” They must account, partly at least, for that special cousin-magic—that adoration, that bond you have with these people you don’t get to see that often and you don't necessarily know that well, living so far apart, but who are more than friends, always.

Glancing through the albums, these pictures that span almost one hundred years, the ways in which we have changed and not-changed stand out. The generations deepen and blur. In one face from twenty years ago—forty years ago—her childhood—I gradually see other faces: a niece, a cousin, a grandchild, a mother.

Glancing through the albums I begin to feel the weight of the photographs. All those memories, and the keeping and losing of them, and trying to walk that path between the two. I know in the end I will leave this place both with treasures and the ache of lost things—photographs, yes (new and old,) but also conversations, connections, time itself. Isn’t this, though, part of what I've been trying to explain to my children recently? That every choice is a loss of something else, every turning-toward also a turning-away? 

Such a hard lesson. But if you focus on what you missed you end up missing it all.

I used to hate the word bittersweet. I used to be annoyed with adults who could come up with nothing more original to greet a child with than, “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown!” I’ve learned to forgive these things. I embrace them frequently, in fact, even while I still consider my own generation to be The Grandchildren. I suppose that too will change, somewhere in the course of just trying to live this life.

The pictures taken this weekend will lengthen the span of years by two. I will return home both with treasures and the ache of things lost.

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  1. I love to read your blog, Karen! I've been especially poor at commenting lately and have no particularly good excuse except that I have a new cell phone and can read your posts on that and I refuse to try to type a comment with my thumbs!

    But "That every choice is a loss of something else, every turning-toward also a turning-away? " is so very...I was going to say good, but I think the word I want is true. Doesn't always feel good, but always true. Thank you

    1. Yes--it's something I'm trying to help my children understand, but it's also something I find hard to accept, myself. Definitely doesn't always feel good, definitely isn't easy.


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