Tender Resilience

When you’re the oldest of six children in your family of origin; when you are by nature an obedient and reliable person; and when your parents set you up as a gold standard, a parental assistant, and a rules enforcer as they raised your younger siblings, you don’t necessarily become your siblings’ best friend or favorite person in those growing up years. Just hypothetically—I’m imagining that could be the case in that scenario.

But this is the deal: I adored them then and still do. I was like a proud grandmother in college: All my new friends heard my siblings’ names, learned about their personalities, saw their pictures and projects, and were informed of all their ongoing developments. Even years after graduation, friends asked about my siblings sometimes before they asked about me, probably because they knew I was a lot more likely to talk on and on, bragging about my beloveds, than to want to chat about myself. You’ve heard people say—and perhaps you’ve experienced this yourself?—that you don’t know what it is to really love someone until you have your own child. I’m crazy in love with my children, but even before they were conceived and blossomed and born, my heart knew a lot of what it was to love like that—overwhelming, sticky, bursting, abiding—from sistering and then from teaching.

Right now, we live across the street from one of my sisters and her family. She was out of town for just a few days this past week for work—a further indication of the loosening intensity of quarantining—and I felt the geographical distance between us, that stretch of the bond over the miles she needed to travel. When my brother, a designer/builder, has worked on projects out of state, I feel that keenly, too, the temporary emptiness of the space he otherwise occupies with his family just a few miles up the road from us. Another sister has recently moved here from Arizona, but the other two live in California and Colorado—perfect for them and their families and lives, but long roads and high mountains away from my own anchored center.

This past year, for most of us around the world, there’s been the ache of separation even given physical proximity otherwise—our usual family meals and celebrations suspended as we gathered and nurtured within our own small households to protect each other and do our part for the larger community. For millions, the worst separations occurred through death, that pulling apart between loved ones lengthening to its breaking point, an ocean of emotional geography emptying. As spring here announces itself with lime-green leaf buds and blooming flowers that manage to be both tender in their emergence and resilient in their perennial growth, I’m holding reunions in my heart, with so much gratitude for life itself. As soon as it can safely be, let me cook for you, hug you, listen to your laugh.