Like so many things in life, the phrase “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” has taken on a whole different level of meaning for me in the last two years. I had no idea what that song was about for decades. The phrase comes from an old Christian hymn. The circle is considered broken when the first family member dies. The song asks “Will everyone be reunited once we have all made our transition?”
This weekend I spent a couple of days with my wife’s side of the family. A phrase that is new to me is “The blood of covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” The interesting thing about this phrase is the phrase “Blood is thicker than water” seems to have been derived from it. But, the derivative and common phrase conveys the exact opposite meaning of the original. The bonds we choose in life, the ones we commit to are greater than the ones formed simply by sharing a womb with someone. Family can be anyone,whether they are related by blood or not.
I have been blessed with having married into a wonderful family with whom I share a covenant. I bonded with Tywana’s parents as if they were my own. I have great relationships with all of her brothers and with her sister. My nephews feel like my own sons. My wife’s sister’s husband is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. This weekend we head off to Garard’s Fort, PA for an impromptu mini- family reunion. I had only one blood relative among th bunch (Kayla). Garard’s Fort is precisely in the middle of nowhere. it’s 7 miles from Morgantown, WV and 7 miles from Washington, PA. My sister-in-law lives on 7 acres of land surrounded by a huge game reserve with an outdoor shooting range within earshot. As we pulled off of the highway and rounded the roads to her homestead, for the first time in my life I saw a bear. A small black bear lumbered across the road about 50′ in front of our car when we were less than 2 miles from her house. OK. We are officially in the country. Not where this city boy grew up, at all.
Most of the family arrived by Friday evening. I had to keep reminding myself we weren’t in Springfield (KY) where Tywana grew up. The house, the land, the people, it was like going back about 20 years into my past when we would get together at Tywana’s parents.
Kayla’s boyfriend came along with us. It was his first trip to “the country” The cousins (four boys all within 2 years of Kayla’s age) put him through the rites of passage and deemed him worthy of Kayla. Good thing. He was stuck with us for two days no matter what.
We had a great time Friday night after arriving. So much so that Rod (my sister-in-law’s husband) declared that this was so great that he wished it could last forever. This was a lovely sentiment, but my thought was “Not quite, Rod.” This is great. And, if Shayna were here, I’d wish it could last forever, too. But, Shayna’s not here. Let’s keep moving forward. I held my tongue.
Friday night, after a shot of bourbon or four, we were sitting at the kitchen table. Shell, my sister-in-law was talking about the sherry glass her grandmother drank a shot of bourbon out of every night for what we figured was about 60 years. So, this glass is at least 70 years old, a family heirloom. She pulled it out and a couple of people drank from it. Right on cue, about ten minutes after Shell tells the story of the glass, it’s knocked off of the table. Every heart in the room stopped. I saw the glass falling, but I wasn’t in a position where i could get to it. Everything slowed down to slow motion. The table blocked my view as it fell to the floor, so I listened for the crash. I heard the glass hit the linoleum and bounce. Great. It’s gonna be all right. Then, I heard the second hit and that sound of glass shattering into a myriad of pieces. The glass was gone.
Thankfully, Shell took it very well. It wasn’t her grandmother. It was just a glass. My mind turned immediately went to “What’s the lesson here?” Nothing (physical) lasts forever. Mommy Emma’s body is gone and the glass she drank from endured for a period of time after her. It was nice to have it. But, even the glass went the way of all material things. Don’t cling to her body. Don’t cling to the glass.
It was a wonderful time, but I needed some time alone. So, I found my way into the living room and sat in the dark for a while. Nothing is the same without Shayna present. I hadn’t gone with Tywana and the girls a few years ago when they spent time at Shell’s but I saw pictures and heard the stories. Shayna had such a great time with her cousins rough housing in the pool and playing gorilla volleyball. I knew Shayna wasn’t missing out of the fun. In fact, I know she was right there. But, I was missing her and I know everyone else was also.
The next day started early. I got to spend some quality time with my nephews starting with a ride to Walmart in the Jeep with no doors. One of the “features” of my nephew’s cherished Jeep is you can take the doors off. Why would you do this? Because you can, of course. Nick and I had a great talk on the drive to the Walmart in the middle of nowhere.
We prepped food all day getting ready for the evening’s festivities. The boys set up the karaoke machine and tested it to make sure it was in working order. Kayla and Gabe joined them for basketball in the pool. We ate, played some corn hole (loser’s tournament where the losers advanced and the final team left had to sing karaoke first. Tywana and I put our competition away and sat to watch the rest. I managed to avoid karaoke for the majority of the night. But, after a while, I guess I had had enough beer and bourbon to let my sister-in-law talk me into singing with her. It was James Taylor’s Fire & Rain. By this time, no one was watching the karaoke performers, so it was safe. But, the chorus was not :
Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain.
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end.
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend,
But I always thought that I’d see you baby, one more time again, now.
My mind immediately went to Shayna and how that night I just knew I’d see her one more time again. The tears welled up. I made it through the song and stumbled to find a chair to plop down in and let flow what had been welling up since getting here the day before.
Sunday, we packed up and got on the road. As we wound our way out of nearly West Virginia (just 7 miles from the border) and nearly heaven (time with family), I was full of gratitude for the experience. That is what I envision heaven to be. No worries. Just relationship with people you love and people who love you. Doing for others as we shared the labor, pooled our money to provide the food and beverages, and we all just crashed wherever we could find a spot. The circle was broken, but I so look forward to the day when the circle is unbroken.