From my parents’ patio today, the smell of leaves decaying on the ground and a wood burning stove was enough to make me stop and breathe deeply. The garden was covered in leaves, ready for a covering of snow and a tiller in the spring. Something about autumn forces us to look forward, in preparation for winter and holidays. I feel the tug of holiday expectations early this year, and grateful for the smells of autumn that initiated some minutes to reflect.
On Thursday, I drove to the now-familiar courthouse in Ogden to see my sister and her husband adopt their third baby. Grace was sleepy as I held her during my sister’s sweet, tearful testimony to the judge. To keep the children safe, I don’t post photos of their faces, just their feet. Can you spot the tiniest feet? Those are Grace’s.
In St George this weekend, Richard’s parents’ house seemed more empty during our visit, as Rebecca’s family didn’t stop by. Cancer shows us the gap one person leaves when she is unable to attend. The family rallied for a big wedding celebration for Andrea, twinkle lights and green boughs everywhere. All hands were needed, and this brought out the best in many who sometimes stay in the corners.
When I look at my own wedding photos, it is the faces of grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles that I study, not friends nor countless pictures of the couple. I wish wedding photographers realized this, and took a few more pictures of the extended family.
Speaking of memories of grandparents, Daniel wore his great-grandfather’s cowboy boots to a dance this weekend. I think that would make Grandpa smile.
I called my grandmother last night to wish her a happy 91st birthday. She talked to me about weather and politics and her grandchildren, all the usual. I asked her what she thought her secret was for living so long.
I guess she gets that question a lot, and she said has no answer. No one in her family history has lived as long. She just said she loved to be surrounded by pictures of family, to watch them grow and achieve, and to receive letters in the mail.
Without saying it directly, I saw that the secret to living, no matter how many years we have, is to be positive. She has chronic pain in her knees; she has another scan this week, as the doctors may be worried that her cancer has returned; she is alone a lot of the time. But she brushes these things off, and focuses on the people in her life, and delights in kindness shown to her.
We are watching and and waiting as another relative receives more bad news each day about her health. How do I reconcile these two stories in my family, of longevity and illness? How do I live without fear, and with gratitude, no matter what? Most important, how can I support these women in the paths they have ahead?
Is there anything better than an older relative who spends time with you when you are little? Maybe they rescue you and help you get to shore; maybe they take time to play a child’s game, or dance with you when Grandma tells you it’s time to dance. I wish I knew how the kids learned to show such kindness and empathy. I like to think they learned it long before they came to us. I didn’t ask the kids to do these things. I really like seeing these photos of our kids being kind.
My dad shared with us at his birthday party that this is also the 50th anniversary of his baptism. He joined the Church as a teenager, and was the first member to join the Church in his family. He said that there are decisions that have the power to alter the course of your life, and this decision to be baptized has made all the difference in who he is, and what his family has become.
My sister Sarah presented him the Harris family Bible from the 1800’s that our family commissioned to be restored. The leather binding is intact and beautiful again. As he looked through the pages of family names listed in the Bible, it was a central moment, surrounded by the new generations and looking backward to ancestors, all who have or will be influenced by his decision to be baptized.
Sometimes little things like this remind me of what is really important. It all comes down to lists of names in a Bible, the dear ones surrounding us, and the decisions we make to stay true to the faith.
We live life on many levels. I feel very good about my inner life, where my thoughts and ideas and study have a home. My outward life is good, too. With neighbors, I am outgoing and try to be thoughtful and friendly. Among extended family, however, I usually draw inward. I feel my loss of integrity at family gatherings with guilt and surprise. Again and again, I wonder how I can feel so “together” about my life until I need to interact with relatives.
I disengage because there is a smaller chance of me messing up or facing assessment. I need to stop being afraid of what others think and say. It robs me of myself and better family relationships.
A favorite great-aunt continues to be my ideal for how to interact at family gatherings. Recently, I went over her patterns of behavior and realized she made brief, beautiful appearances and then retreated. She was often late, seeming to operate in her own time table. She brought expensive bakery goods to contribute. She had her place: she was the sparkle. She probably felt the pressure of her role very deeply. Was she late because it took a lot of effort to face us, with gifts, clothes, and food, perfectly arranged? Her effusive compliments were a part of her script for a few hours and then she was gone. When she stayed for a few days instead of a few hours, she took time away from family to take walks and read. Clearly she had a need for personal time. I admire how she handled the high-intensity dynamics of a family gathering. She chose to turn outward, and this takes so much courage. She was kind and outgoing without compromising her need for solitude. I want to be like this.
Receive every offer, idea, and contribution with gratitude and grace. Greet warmly. Accept invitations with excitement. Express gratitude freely. Encourage and admire openly. Read another time. Celebrate individuality. Remember we are all children of the Most High and have a need to be loved.