Let me tell you a story, about a girl. She’s a friend of mine, but in truth, she is more like family. I say friend because we are not related. We were at one time, by marriage, but that was many moons ago. And like so much of the best intentions in life, our friendship drifted apart. It drifted after the marriage that brought us together dissolved. It’s just one of the many reasons divorce is so devastating. It doesn’t just affect those involved in the marriage but all those around it, too. She wasn’t the only one I have lost touch with because of divorce, but she is the one I am going to tell you about today.
I have known her almost my entire life, so even during the times that I was not in touch with her; it still felt like she was family. When we were children, Sunday dinners at her grandmother’s house were always a treat to look forward to, and we all did. That little woman made a pot roast that was the envy of the gods themselves. When you walked in her house, the delicious aroma was immediately recognizable. The intoxicating smell of pot roast and dinner rolls instantly made you hungry. I swear if I smelled it today, I would recognize it instantly. It was one of those innocent times of life, when the biggest concern was playing too loud and getting yelled at by an adult.
Every Sunday, after church it was a house of free-range children and happiness. In my memory, it’s a Norman Rockwell painting, set in the ’70s. It’s what my young mind considered family, and in those days it seemed like it would last forever. Truth is, although it was only by marriage, it was family. Now, for the record, I have a loving blood relation family and I was well nurtured as a child. I didn’t know it then, but I was doubly blessed to have both in my life. Hindsight is always 20/20; looking back now, those were some the best memories of my childhood.
But divorces happen, lives separate, time marches on, we hurt and we heal. But, I never forgot about them and I never lost the fond memories of those days.
By the time I was a teenager and could reconnect on my own, I openly admit, I didn’t really make the effort. It wasn’t that I didn’t think about it or want to, I was just too busy being me. I would run into her from time to time and there would be genuine pleasure in seeing her again. But like most teens, I was self-absorbed and there was always another party. So, I put childhood things where I thought they belonged: in the past. The story could end there and that would be the normal way of life, but today, we have this new-fangled thing called “social media” and it makes it easy for me to stay in touch with friends and family from the past. So, I would reconnect with her every so often via internet or cellphone. By this medium we both discovered that we shared a fondness for writing. We exchanged stories and gave praise to each other’s efforts. It was fun and above all, it was easy. Schedules didn’t have to change; appointments didn’t have to be made or kept. It could all be done, sitting in front of the dim light of a computer screen. But, as I came to discover, she was made of better stuff than that.
Which now brings me to the grist of story. I received a message from her a few years ago, regarding a gathering of the same extended family from my childhood. I was excited to get the invite; just imagine, a chance to revisit those longed-after days of yore. But, as it turned out, I had to work that day and was unable to attend. She invited me again the following year and the year after. I did take the offer one year, but was unable to stay long, again due to work schedule. In more recent years, I have become estranged from some of the people that attend these gatherings. It has been heartrending but, as I see it, unavoidable. So, I was honest with her and told her that I would not be able to attend her gathering. The last thing I wanted to do was cause any undue tension or otherwise be detrimental to her family enjoyment. You may read what I just wrote and agree that was the best choice. I tell you plainly, it is not and I am wrong to be that way. I have reasons why I don’t engage with those from whom I am estranged, but I do miss them. I believe my reasons are sound, and I am sure they think theirs are . . . they are also wrong. But I do not suspect they will change their minds any more than I am willing to change mine. Nonetheless, the young lady this story is about, despite all these petty squabbles, still tries to bring her family together, to bring back some of “Grandmother’s Pot Roast Days,” as I have come to remember them. At times, she has endured strained relations with those she invites, including me. Yet, she still endeavors to bring us all together again.
This past Christmas was a low point for me in many ways. In the past year and a half preceding the holiday season of 2016, I lost both my father and my mother. Ongoing litigation has consumed much of joy with life and because of the strained relations I spoke of earlier, I was unable to see many family members on Christmas Day. And since those from whom I was estranged would most likely be in attendance, I once again declined her invitation to join in the family gathering she planned. When she asked why I could not attend, I told her my reasons. I expected that she would listen to my reasons and that would be the last time I would be asked and it made me sad. What happened next really surprised me: instead of giving up on me, she invited my girlfriend and I to a dinner with her and her husband after the holidays. She told us we could pick a date that suited both of our schedules and plan a menu. I was honored to accept this gracious offer. I was deeply touched by her efforts to maintain our relationship; despite the mess I have had a hand in creating. In February, we had that dinner and it was a great evening. We have made plans to do so again sometime in the near future.
Now, you may think that this is a simple story of someone who is just really nice and, she is. But, I submit to you, there is a lot more to it than that. When the entire world is pulling us in different directions, when drifting apart is the norm and when work occupies all our attention, losing contact is just a part of growing older. But not her. She is making Herculean efforts to bring her extended family back together. This may not be all that uncommon in the greater scheme of things, but how many people do you know who actually do it? For most of us, it’s easy when we are younger; we just simply go to our parents’ house (or someone you view in a parental light). But, when the parents or grandparents pass away or marriages dissolve, the glue that holds us together oftentimes will slowly dissolve. As we age and travel further down our own separate paths, it takes someone with a special will to pull a family back together. I wish I could be as good of a person as I find her to be. For me personally, she renewed my faith in family at a time when it was waning.
I don’t know what the future holds as far my strained relations go. I know I can’t fix what’s wrong all by myself. But her kindness and compassion have renewed my faith and I am better prepared for what’s next. To wax poetic, at a time when my soul was thirsty, lost in a desert of doubt, her compassion was an oasis. And I know that she will always be my family, regardless of marriage or blood. For that I am eternally grateful and from the bottom of my heart, I say thank you. And to everyone who reads this, Merry Christmas and I hope the new year finds you healthy, happy and in the presence of those you love.