Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Slow Down

How can one hold such sadness inside the awareness of being so smiled on? I think I am an introvert set down amid the clamoring multitude that is my family. I am grateful for it. It forces me out of my natural tendancy to ruminate, insisting I take part in all the action. It invigorates me, but it overstimulates and fries me, too. Just ask my children who knew this past weekend to put their hands on my shoulders again and again and say gently, Relax. But now the crowd has left and my heart is like a desert, brushed dry as sand, worn out from aching at the things that are merely my life, the flip side of my blessings. I wish I could stay home today and recharge.

I sat in the pew at my cousin's funeral last Friday, listening to my brother give a moving eulogy to my cousin, filled with wry and loving cousin memories, and at the end, his words stuttered, his voice broke and he finished through tears. It was the point at which the whole church dissolved. My children, sitting with their cousins in front of me, sobbed freely. My son leaned back and whispered that I was not to say anything to his sister, just let her regain herself, because she had to read the lesson next and she was nervous. If you touch her, she will cry harder, he whispered. She read beautifully. She rushed at first, but then she remembered her Grandma telling her to slow down when they would read the Bible together during the summers they spent with her in St. Lucia. She said she heard her Grandma, clear and strong in her head, saying Slow down, my love, and she did.

The church was full. Almost everyone in my maternal family came. My cousin's daughter wept when she saw my son and my niece had come home from college to attend. It meant so much, she said, that they had come to honor her father. They also came to be with their grandmother, who they knew would be leaving New York in three days. My son stayed by her side all afternoon, helping her maneuver her rollator up ramps and around pews, into cars and out of elevators. He said to her, "I'm yours today, Grandma. Whatever you need." She felt so taken care of, she told me later. So beloved.

As always, when the family gathers, I remember how sewn in I am to this community of souls. I am so much myself with them. There are so many. In the church, cousin after cousin went up to the lectern to give a remembrance, childhood stories about my cousin's fiercely competitive nature, his lifelong connection to family and his roots in Jamaica, despite being born and raised in America. After the last sat down, the minister joked that he was going to rewrite the line, "In my father's house there are many mansions." He said for our family, it should read, "In my father's house there are many cousins." We laughed. It was that kind of service, where you laughed through your tears.

My mother was born into a family of nine siblings, including the six sisters, all of whom are still alive. The nine gave birth to 28 children, my first cousins on my mother's side. We call ourselves "the generation of the 28," except we are 24 left alive now. The moment that thought crossed through me is when I felt most desolate, because sitting there in the church, I thought to myself, we are going to have to do this again and again, six more times for the elder sisters, and 24 more times for the cousins, and untold more times for the elders and the cousins on my father's side, and all our spouses and the families we have married into, and so on. It felt like a great weight, suddenly. No matter. It is a price I will willingly pay for the laughs I have shared. For the rich sense of belonging to something. For the privilege of loving and being loved.

Here's a picture I managed to make everyone sit still for this past weekend. That's my mom and her three oldest grandchildren, ages 21, 20 and 17, on the couch in her little tree house studio. It sits empty now. My mom returned to Jamaica yesterday. Her other two grandchildren, ages 10 and 7, are right this minute crawling all over her and her spanking new iPad, which is my mom's new toy, her fancy bridge player, book reader, picture capturer, and child magnet. She loves that thing, even though she's still using only 10 percent of its brain. I'm sure her grands will show her the full range of its wonders.


  1. my heart is so heavy reading this post

  2. Your weaving of sorrow and family and love and potential loss and real loss is a beautiful piece of art.

    And the photos -- well -- I'll ditto Radish King.

  3. What a wonderful family you have - and your children? Holy moley they are so gems!

  4. I'm glad that you could "laugh through your tears". You know how important that is for survival.
    Take care. And what a great photo!
    Your Friend, m.

  5. Just beautiful. Thank you for weaving all that's true and gold in life and death so perfectly here.

  6. your opening line says it all. this beautiful posting is all about life, and what matters.
    good to hear from you....

  7. Oh Angella, I'm glad your family was able to come together to honor your cousin and support his children. Please rest your soul and your body. It feels like there has been so much demands on you... Take time off.

  8. Rubye, i love it, too. nice to see you!

    Rebecca, i get such a thrill when you come around these parts! i think of you a lot.

    Candice, it's not really a sad post, though, just a life post.

    Elizabeth, that weaving thing, that's life, pure and true.

    NOLA darling (i hope you don't mind me calling you that!), holy moley, they are that. i'm not gonna lie. which is not to say they are perfect...not gonna lie about that either.

    Mark, that laughing through tears is whole deal, isn't it. I missed you, friend.

    silverfinofhope, thank you for appreciating the effort to say how it was.

    susan, i'm so thrilled by your recent radical goings on! south portland rocks.

    Miss A, thank you for care I feel in this. thank you.

  9. ah.. Elizabeth said it as well.
    you are.