Every few years my Filipino side of the family gets together for a reunion. We broke from the developing pattern of all getting together strictly for weddings and funerals and began renting a pagoda picnic spot in a park and having an Asian themed potluck.
A quick and easy way to understand my family is to consider the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Substitute lamb for pork and pansit, and put in brown people instead of Greeks, and you’ve got my extended family. Loud, boisterous, bad puns inside jokes that build upon themselves exponentially throughout the event, getting into each other’s business and taking everyone else with you. Because the extended family is so extended, and because we now hail from all over the country, and because we don’t all spend all that much time together, we end up spending about 20% of all our conversations explaining to each other just how we’re related.
“Oh, I’m your dad’s cousin so that makes you my nephew,” even though you’re my age.
There’s another couple kids somewhere in the constellation who, being the same age(under 10), generationally are grandmother and grandson.
“Your Lolo(grandfather) was my cousin, which makes so-and-so your second cousin once removed…” or something like that.
I finally learned what a cousin, “Once or twice removed,” actually means.
My family is primarily extroverts, jokesters and storytellers. I love them deeply, even though I don’t know most of them all that well, which is a confusing experience, brought about by living long distance for most of my childhood and all my adult life. The unexpected benefit, though, to never knowing my aunts, uncles and cousins as kids is that now I get to establish fresh connections with them as adults. There’s an easier depth we can bring to a conversation because we have a fuller life experience. That is, if the other person has conversational skills. I worked to connect with one cousin only to find that he spends most of his free time in the gaming world. No social skills required. Oh well. We had more conversation today than we have in twenty-two years and he did more than glare at me. I’ll call it progress.
The occasion for this reunion was the 85th birthday of my Lola, the widow of my Lolo whom I mentioned last post.
I see my Lola about once a year, and regard each occasion with reverence. Going to see her is like going on a pilgrimage. Our conversations are sacred treasures. More than any of my other relatives, she grounds me in my place in my family.
My Lola teaches me about growing old and growing toward death. I don’t know if she knows that she does this, but she does.
She gave a speech at her party(because when you’re the matriarch or patriarch in my family, you give speeches at your own parties, and maybe even sing a song). Her words were hope laced with purpose grounded in Gospel.
She talked about keeping life simple, and not having so many things, so that you could leave space for people and for love.
She said, “Someday I will die. Hopefully not soon, but sometime in the next 5 years.” Then she talked about using her remaining time working to leave something that would outlast her. Most likely her relationships with her children, grand children and great grandchildren.
She talked about Jesus. She talked about hope, about a sureness that Christ has brought her this far in life through all she has experienced, and a certainty that death when it comes will bring about sweet rest, peace and reunion with the two greatest loves in her life, those being Christ and Lolo.
She turned 85. At her party she energetically engaged with dozens of people at her party. She laughed, she cried, she told jokes, she imparted wisdom. She reached out and touched(literally with hugs) everyone she loved.
When I see her, gracefully embracing age 85, I am not afraid of either death or growing old. In fact, I think, well that doesn’t look so bad.
Of course growing old is difficult. She has outlived her dearest love by more years than she expected and the sadness still overtakes her every day. Her body is growing older and more frail. She is watching her generation slip into the everlasting one by one.
But still. Her children rise and call her blessed. Her grandchildren revere and adore her. Her great grandchildren hear her name spoke with tenderness and affection.
In her quiet commitment to Christ and to a simple life, she has gently conquered life.
I think I want to age like her.