Every year as the new year approaches, I take time to transfer birthdays from the previous year’s wall calendar to the next year’s calendar. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve paid more attention to people’s ages and anniversaries, especially as I’ve added friends and family as they’ve come into my life.
This year, as I wrote the names in the 2013 calendar, I noticed a trend: milestone birthdays. 5’s and 0’s are wild this year, and I’m not exactly sure why it stood out to me. Maybe because yours truly turns 35 or because family members who still get carded are turning 50 (you know who you are!) or my husband’s great-aunt will be 100 (woman of valor!).
One of the hardest things for me in the last four and a half years of living out of state from the rest of the family is the number of family birthdays and get-togethers and celebrations we’ve missed. If the birthdays or celebrations have fallen during one of our two to three visits per year, we do our best to make it.
So it was with great joy that we ended our most recent trip home with birthday celebration after birthday celebration after birthday celebration.
We cooked a meal for my mother-in-law on Thursday for her milestone birthday.
Today we celebrated our nephew’s first birthday …
… and ended the day with a birthday dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant with my uncle, aunt and cousin for my uncle’s milestone birthday (which would be significant in its own right but is more meaningful because of what happened to him last year).
Our visit has been full of family, which is typical when we come home to visit, but for some reason this time, I’ve felt the love more deeply. Twice, we’ve been a party of 9 at a restaurant, and while I don’t tend to seek out large crowds, my heart has swelled with an emotion I can’t quite capture when so many people with a common bond of love have gathered around the same table.
Watching my husband be an uncle has been another love-inducing experience. It’s different, somehow, than watching him be a dad, and I love him more and differently than I did before this week.
I wish I could record and replay all the moments these weeks have brought us. Because it will be months before we have more of them. While I love the memories we make as a party of four, our lives become richer when we open them to others who love us.
Maybe I wouldn’t appreciate the moments as much if we were here all the time. Maybe it doesn’t do any good to wish we were here for all the milestones or wonder what our lives would be like if we didn’t live so far from family.
Maybe it’s just better to be thankful for the times we have.
For family dinners.
For three Christmas get-togethers and a van full of presents that show love.
For shared memories and laughs about days that have passed.
For unplanned lunches out with family we bump into at the store.
For catching up with friends and finding out we’ve changed and grown in a lot of the same ways.
For a place to be who we are despite who we’ve been.
We’re leaving again in the morning, and my heart will tear, as it always does when we leave one place for the other.
It will mend and break many times more. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, if I want to love, I must risk pain and heartache because my only other option is to love nothing and let my heart turn cold and dark.
I refuse the latter.
Shoot. This was supposed to be a post about what makes me smile. Instead, I’m close to tears.
Sometimes the two aren’t all that far apart, I guess.