My niece posted a photograph of our great big extended family on Facebook with a comment about how much has changed in the five years since we all stood so happily together on the day of her wedding. Every person in the snapshot is indeed profoundly different than we were back then. Sometimes it is difficult to even imagine all that has changed since we stood so proudly together.
The most obvious differences in each of us are purely physical. The children have grown in so many ways. My eldest grandson was still a boy back then and today nobody would mistake him for anything but a man. The baby in one of my niece’s arms will be going to school for the first time in the fall. For many of us the lines on our faces and increased girth on our bodies demonstrate that we are slowly but inevitably growing older.
If that same photo were taken today a very important person would be missing. The matriarch of the Little family, my mother, was gloriously beautiful on that day back in 2011. Nobody might have expected that in only a few months she would be forever gone. Everyone remarked that night that she was stunning but I suspect that she knew that her time was drawing to a close. She somehow found the strength to smile and dance but her body was turning on her. She had always sacrificed for her family and that evening was no different. She would refrain from any mention of just how tired and sick she felt. It was her granddaughter’s special occasion and she would do her best to make it perfect.
Our earthly journey is marked not just with death but also with life. The young woman holding the baby now has two more incredible children. The bride and groom have three of their own boys. My brother who was single back then has married his true love. One of the handsome young men has found the partner with whom he wants to forever share his life and they will be married soon. Some of us have retired from our lifelong careers. Others have earned degrees or advanced in their jobs. The children have begun to explore the interests that may one day direct their lives. They have won trophies in swimming, track, academics, art, acting, chess. Each of them would have made the founder of the family, my mom, quite proud. I suspect that she still watches over us from her heavenly abode.
There were others in attendance at that gala event who are not pictured but who nonetheless were very important players in the story. They too have experienced the changes of time. The clock ticks relentlessly and takes us along paths that we sometimes never expect. Thankfully our family ties are so strong that we rarely have to experience either joys or tragedies alone. We may be busy most of the time but we always seem to find special moments for reuniting. Our circle of life repeats and repeats.
I have written about many of the individuals in the photograph. I have spoken of their unflinching faith, their excellence and determination, their quirks and their character. Mostly ours has been a story of profound love. That is the one constant that never seems to change. Our mother modeled it for us and we try our best to follow her example in everything that we do.
We each have goals and plans for the coming months and even the next few years. We hope that things will work out just as we have planned but we are also aware that it is in the surprises that we grow the most. Who knows what opportunities await us or what challenges will bring us together. Life is never a static photo. It is a moving picture. No matter how much we wish to capture a moment forever, it just can’t happen. That is against the laws of nature. We will all grow older and we will change. The pictures are simply reminders of our times together. Those can never be taken away.
Many of us who are smiling so brightly in the five year old portrait will gather together once again this Sunday to celebrate Easter. I used to host this annual event but when my eldest daughter suggested that she would like to continue the tradition in her home I happily passed the baton. That is the way things work in the circle of life. We wander through season after season and accept the events through which we travel. The wonder is that somehow, no matter what has transpired, the ties that bind us are strong enough to keep us together and flexible enough to make room for new members.
In five years we do indeed change. It happens to all of us. The world somehow keeps turning, going through its phases with regularity while we grow and change and sometimes even leave our earthly homes so that we might rest for eternity. It’s amazing how that works.
During the past five years I have enjoyed finding out more and more about my ancestors. I have tracked some of them back as far as the ninth century. Sometimes they are just names dangling from the family tree but at other times I manage to imagine what what their existences might have been. I have walked through the woods and the battlefields where my great grandfather once trod in both war and peace. I have thought of my grandparents sailing across the Atlantic toward a new home and wondered what thoughts and fears ran through their heads. I have noted the hardships of far distant relatives who lost children and spouses and even those who died at incredibly young ages. Like everyone our family group has a history that has brought us to this very moment.
I wonder if someone many decades from now will gaze at our photograph of 2011 and try to puzzle through who we were. Will they see our closeness in the images of our faces? Will they understand just how special we all were to one another? Will they see the beauty of our relationships and the hopefulness of our dreams? Will they intuit that there was something quite special about our family?
The other evening I was gazing at the old black and white photos that lined the walls of a local Cracker Barrel. I became a bit sad at the thought that these portraits that had at one time been very important to the people depicted in them had now become kitschy decorations. All of the very real people had once belonged to a family somewhere. Who had thought so little of them that they ended up in a garage sale? How did they manage to become so anonymous?
In my mind I created stories for them. It only seemed fitting. They had once stood before a camera and smiled just as we did on that wonderful occasion when we might all have chosen to freeze frame the passage of time forever. As with them, our lives moved on and we are all the better for the joys that have befallen us ever since.