One of the highlights of the family reunion weekend was seeing my first cousin once removed (had to look that up), Harlem. Harlem is the youngest of my young cousin D’art.  I’ve only met her once, over a year ago, so there is no way that she remembers me. When I walked into the room, someone else was holding her and she reached out for me. I took her in my arms and she immediately put her head on my shoulder and just snuggled in.  Then, she looked up at me right in the eye, gave me a kiss on the cheek and laid her head back down on my shoulder, all without saying a word.

I love little kids.  I love their innocence and their trust. I always pay special attention to them and give them a wave and a smile. They are pure. They are untainted by the world. They look at you and they don’t see old or young, fat or skinny, pretty or ugly, black or white. They just see a fellow soul.  A human being just like them that they connect with.  

I was feeling pretty special the way Harlem came to me. Over the course of the weekend though I saw Harlem with just about every family member there. In fact, Kayla told me she had reached out to a stranger on the playground.  Sadly, we have to teach them to not trust everyone, to not hug everyone.  We have to teach them to be guarded.  But, they are oh so sweet when they still have that heart of gold.  

You will find peace of mind
If you look way down in your heart and soul
Don’t hesitate ‘cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart, ’cause you’re never, never old
That’s the way of the world
Plant your flower and you grow a pearl
Child is born with a heart of gold
Way of the world makes his heart so cold

“I would swim over the deepest ocean, The deepest ocean to be by your side. But the sea is wide, and I can’t get over. Neither have I wings to fly. Oh, if I could find a handsome boatsman To ferry me over to my love and die.” ~

Carrighfergus, traditional Celtic ballad

Today is family reunion day 2. Last night I slept in my old bedroom, the one I grew up in. It’s the first time I’ve slept in this room in over 30 years.  The bunk beds have been made into twin beds because the grandkids didn’t like the bunk beds. I slept in the bed I started sleeping in when I was about five years old.

I had a violent dream. This is two nights in the row I’ve had a dream where I am being pursued by the police.  In this dream, I’m with my mother, my father and my Uncle Ronnie. I rarely dream about family members and I don’t recall ever dreaming about them all together.  The weird thing is, when I come down to breakfast my mother tells me that my father was making “shooting noises” in his sleep as if he were shooting a gun.  He was not firing a gun in my dream, but one was being fired at us.  I also woke up in the middle of the night with that awful feeling that something truly tragic just happened. I fully expected to hear the next morning that someone has died. I hope I’m wrong and it turns out I was.  Maybe the terror hit me because this is the room where my fear of death was formed, lying in the dark at night when I realized that my mother and father weren’t always going to be with me and one day I would die and either face judgement or annihilation. Maybe some of that energy is still in that room.

Today is the picnic.  I help my mother get things ready and we head over to meet the rest of the family.  There were 135 or so at the dinner last night. There are supposed to be close to 200 at the picnic today.  The women in the family are nervous. Will there be enough food?  There was that incident, indelibly burned into my mother’s brain 28 years ago. At my father’s 50th birthday dinner, they ran out of one of the stuffings. I don’t remember. I’m not sure I was even there.  But, the tale is still told. Disaster. This must never happen again.  Spoiler alert- the hamburgers, hot dogs, polish sausages, turkey burgers, turkey hot dogs and 400 pieces of friend chicken were sufficient.  In fact, just like after Jesus finished feeding the 5,000 baskets and baskets of food are left over at the end of the picnic. 

Before we start eating there is a lot of milling around and meeting and greeting family members.  This is what I’m not really good at.  I find myself a couple of times seemingly the only person in a room of 200 people who isn’t engaged in conversation. But, it’s OK. I like to observe people.  I spend time reflecting on the family reunions over the years. I look at the little ones running around and remember the reunions in the parks of Columbus- back in the day.  Just running around with my cousins, filling up on whatever we felt like eating and drinking pop to our hearts’ content. Then, being the young adult, bringing Ty to the early ones as a couple with no children.  Then, bringing the girls.  Now, I’m one of the older ones  There are a couple of generations behind me.  Last night I saw one of my young cousins in the bar having a drink and thought “She’s not supposed to be drinking.  Oh wait.  She’s over 30.  I guess it’s OK.”  Only seeing certain people every few years makes me really reflect on the passage of time.  I’ve been coming to these for half a century that I can remember. Wow. I’m 55. I remember when I thought that was so old. Now I’m the old guy.

I find some time to sneak off into the park to walk through the rose garden. The event is at the Park of Roses in Columbus, aptly named because there are over 12,000 roses and other plants on a several acre garden. I walk from one end of the garden to the other just thinking and getting in some solitude.  Large crowds drain me and I was around a lot of people last night and again today.  Recharged, I head back to the crowd.

People keep coming up to me and asking the obligatory “How are you doing?”  question. Thank God for inflection, so I can tell whether they’re sincerely asking how I’m doing or I can just give the “I’m fine. How are you.” that comes out without even thinking. Many of these people I don’t know so I know they’re just parroting the phrase- not really interested in how I’m doing. Many I do know and they might or might not know that Shayna has passed.  My brother and my kids are getting old enough now they can miss these things for a variety of reasons.  One of his kids is back on campus already, the other is working.   So, Shayna not being here isn’t highly unusual.  My mother introduces me to a couple of people and tells me she has told them about Shayna. I wonder how many people she has given a heads up.  There are no awkward moments of people asking me where she is.  I think Mom must have headed some of that off.

The thought that keeps coming back to me is “I don’t belong here.”  I’ve never felt truly at home here on Earth.  I’ve always felt at least a little bit lonely. Other people seem to have a great time at these things.  I can’t wait to get back home to my little family, just Tywana and the girls.   But it’s not the same anymore. Shayna isn’t with us.  When we get ready to go and it’s time to round up the crew, there’s only Tywana and Kayla to round up.  It will never be the same.  I’m stuck between two worlds.

I go back to the reunion and get through the rest of the socializing. My cousins want to take some group pictures before we all leave. We do that. Then my Uncle wants to get a shot of just Tywana, Kayla and me.  We pose for the picture. I put on the smile I’m supposed to wear and we take the photo. It’s a good one, but it’ll never be a great one without Shayna.  

I ask Tywana when we can leave.  Kayla is having a great time, so we want to give her time with her cousins, but we’re ready to go.  We start to say our good-byes. This is the toughest thing for me. I’ve always hated good-byes. I especially hate them now. As I’m hugging people who I last hugged when they came to Shayna’s service, the flashbacks happen. I’m right back to that day. Tears start to fill my eyes, but they’re inappropriate for the occasion, so I have to fight them back.  I turn and start walking away when my cousin Collete chastises me for not saying good-bye to her.  It’s hard to get to everyone and she has no idea how hard it is for me just to hold it together right now.  I wave good-bye to her and we head to the car and back home, just the three of us.

So, how was the family reunion?  It’s always great to see my cousins and my uncles. I come from an amazing family.  I’m glad I went, on that score. It’ll be in Philadelphia next year. I will not be going to that one.  The only family reunion I’m really interested in now is the one where Aunt Elaine and Uncle Michael and Felton and Shayna. my Risen family, will be there and that when I hug them hello again, I’ll never have to hug them goodbye.