I went on my annual trip with my sisters not long ago. We talked for hours, poked around various shops in the historic downtown of Port Townsend, toured a Commanding Officer’s Victorian home at an old fort, watched a regatta of two hundred boats glide into part of Puget Sound. We shared a few meals, talked late. I was not keen on the week-end ending so quickly.
Marinell, Allanya and myself: we are three sisters among five children (two brothers, also) but I once felt as though I was the fifth wheel, the “leftover”, the once who missed out. My siblings were born close together, as though meant to be two pairs. But five years after the fourth child, I arrived. I studied them as though from a distance–they were titans of accomplishment, often seeming just out of reach. Plus, they enjoyed the possibilities of independence. As the baby of the family, I was busy deciphering new data and expectations, traversing territory they had left behind years ago. By the time I was twelve, all my siblings had gone off to college. In a home where privacy was a bonus experience and quietness was a stranger, it was now so empty I could hear my own daydreams and secrets in the echoing reaches.
Y0u might ask: what does this have to do with the human heart and its well-being? Bear with me: this is about matters of import, and how they help keep us alive.
So. The years passed. I slipped away from my siblings and they, from me. We each sought our particular adventures, some fabulous, some doomed from the start. I eventually had my own young family and there was little time and money for travelling to far-flung locales in our country and, sometimes, the world, to visit them. I found myself wishing there were five aunts and uncles around who could join my five children on outings to museums or the zoo, share barbeques and ball games, delight in each triumph with us. But it was not to be. We wrote letters; we called at times and talked as long as we could despite long distance being expensive. But actual distance between us was great. I felt my longing grow more profound.
At forty-two, at the urging of my sisters, I relocated from Michigan to the northwest. I was suddenly in an area where my older brother and two sisters resided. My other brother lived, and remains, back east. But this wealth of siblings within my reach was wondrous. My last child was twelve then, the age at which my siblings had left the family nest. I rediscovered how vastly caring, inquisitive, stalwart and good-humored they were.
I’ve been able to hear my older brother, Gary, play jazz clarinet, saxophone and flute at clubs and borrow his classic movies; we’ve shared our dinner tables. I can call him with a wisp of a tune stuck in my brain and he can name it–and sing it fully–for me. I do wish my younger brother, Wayne, was not so far away so he could be counted among those at the long oak dining table in my home. Last year’s sisters’ trip was happily spent visiting him. Also a successful musician, he has music at the center of his life and his photographs are really stories reflecting myriad travels; they demonstrate a clarity of mind and heart. His warm laughter reaches out across any room.
Allanya showed me how to maximize the pleasure of living in this beautiful city, shared food and shelter at the start. We prowl estate sales and antique shops, enjoy leisurely walks in tree-canopied parks, and call each other whenever we like, the line buzzing with whatever is important or mundane, pleasing or difficult. She and I are like two birds of rumpled but bright feathers, drawn to the beauty of nature, the mysteries of life. Marinell, the oldest, lives a few hours away but I always look forward to our visits. Thirteen years older, she also has had heart malfunctions, so understands. I enjoy hearing her play her cello and grand piano. We might sit on her patio and sip hot or iced tea, pluck sumptuous strawberries from a bright bowl, and reminisce about our younger years or discuss our latest book favorites. And few have more fun shopping than we do, exclaiming over our finds.
My sisters and I sat in a motel room that last night together as the sun floated above then slipped beneath the misty, silvered horizon on Puget Sound. Somehow we got on the topic of life after death, angelic creatures, experiences we have had of the indefinable power of God. We each revealed an experience we had not shared before in our visits. Our voices fell; our family eyes, large and intense, filled with tears. There was a quietude in that room that overtook the ordinary time and place we inhabited. It resonated so deeply within me that when I looked at them closely I felt I saw their innermost beings. And they shone so, they shone brightly, like warm lanterns illuminating the cocoon of darkness that had spun itself about us. I looked again and saw their beauty, love, wisdom. Their tenderness.
Sometimes when my heart jolts me awake; when it murmurs so slowly I wonder if it will keep me moving through day and night; when it feels stuffed to bursting or ragged with irritation–then I remind myself from where I came. I recall the honorable legacy my parents left us, and know well who has helped bring me this far, caring generously through the highs and lows. There have been, as there always are with health challenges, desperate moments when I wondered if I had too far to go and not enough courage. My husband, children and friends have been there, thankfully. But my family has been my anchor from the very beginning, and I am there for them as well.
My education on this earth has at least taught me how to hold on to what I experience as an endless circle of love. Therein we each can create and recreate our lives. It started for me long ago in my own quirky, compassionate family, and it continues to radiate from the center of the great wheel of life. Hold fast to love, dear reader, wherever discovered: it will walk/dance/lift/carry us through anything at all. And by an unexpected act of grace, it transforms the greater heart into a clear, deep well for others who also are in need. We can then guide each other through the harrowing places. We make peace with the nights until the incandescence of moon, stars or sun keeps us company again.