In the midst of the crowd, we gravitated to each other. We did a little catching up of where we are now. Mostly we talked about where we’d been.
I was with a gathering of my first cousins. We came with mixed feelings. I don’t think any of us wanted to say good-bye to our uncle as he had been for most of our lives but we were grateful that he no longer had to endure the diminished life he’d suffered lately. We gathered there, the children of the three brothers and one sister who’d been siblings so many years ago.
In no time, we fell back into easy conversation. We tried to figure out who fell where in the birth orders. (I felt the need to continue to remind them that I was the youngest cousin. That feels much cooler now than it did when I was a kid.) We talked about the things we used to do and shared our stories… “Do you remember the time?”
On the long drive home my brother and I talked about what a gift it was – not only the gift of the gathering but the gift of connections. While we lived one state removed from the family farm that served as the gathering place, we made a visit at least once a month. The farm gave us the best playground ever – a log cabin of a playhouse that could become whatever we needed it to be, fields for running, trees perfect for climbing. In the summer we swam in the lake with the fish nibbling on our legs and the mud making soft, squishy pillows beneath out feet. Best for me, down a short ways was the barn, not only with a hayloft but with an actual pony.
After playing with my cousins, I used to love to sit by the fire on Christmas night with my aunts and uncles and listen to the stories about their childhoods, stories about building boats that were barely seaworthy but were sailed down the James River nonetheless, stories about making their own Monopoly set (complete with melting lead to pour into molds for the figures!) and dozens of other adventures of kids with little money but huge imaginations.
Those informal, unscheduled days at the farm wove us together into the fabric of family. Our playtime and our stories became the threads joining us together. And now, even though we are scattered and seldom see each other, it is an easy thing to pick up those threads again.
I’m sure that it wasn’t easy for my parents to make that trip every month, especially after we became teenagers and had jobs and youth group to schedule around. I know part of the push was for my mother to take care of her widowed mother. But it was so worth the trouble.
Whether it’s the family you’re born into or the family you create for yourself, think about creating space to spend time together. With the hurried and harried shape of many of our lives, it can seem like a daunting task. But if you decide that it is an important thing to have happen, sooner or later, in one way or another, more times than not a way can be found. It doesn’t have to be a big event. Sometimes all you need is a field for kids to run in, some food for sharing, some chairs for sitting and cell phones turned off.