What Matters

The GPS was confusing us; we were going to be late. But, even late, we ended up being the first to arrive, and still had plenty of time to cut up mountains of fresh herbs for the salad, which we managed to do without getting our white dresses and shirts dirty.

The rest of the guests begin to trickle in, and the room begins to fill with laughing, excited, happy people. Joy and pain, as is common, arrive together. Then the Hug arrives: it’s been over a year, an intense one. My son’s hugs have always been good ones, carrying the ability to draw out buried emotion. This one, with little regard for carefully applied mascara, is no different.

It’s an occasion to celebrate though, and we do. Then I see his sister disappear, into a dark and quiet room. For respite from the intensity of the smiles and laughter, for a moment to honour her being, the emotions this event has surfaced, her pain. I know this. Through floor to ceiling windows, we watch the skies open, and we remember why the yard is so lush here, and wonder how the outdoor ceremony will go if they open in this way again tomorrow afternoon. They don’t though, and the sun comes out with stunning brightness.

The happy bride navigates the steep and stony steps to the yard with her parents, and then, on level ground now, fittingly and eagerly—almost rushing at this point— leaves them behind to stand with her beloved. Tears soak the face of her young niece, who is standing nearby. The couple vows their love and faithfulness, and then tears soak the face of the lovely bride too, and the faces of many of the guests.

We turn our happy selves to a lavish spread of champagne and oysters. Love and joy, sunshine, and lush Canadian west-coast beauty fill the air. I see my daughter smiling and chatting with her brothers. I’ve been engaged in a wonderfully affirming conversation, one of those that happen with a stranger whose experience resonates deeply with your own, but I leave it to join the kids, to capture the moment on camera. It’s not often I have all of them together at once.

On the way to the hall, missteps: we’re rushing a little, scratch the shiny new Jetta while parking it in a parking lot seemingly made for Smart cars only, forget the speech at the hotel, and have to return for it. The cab driver is happy enough to help out.

We sit at long tables punctuated by stunning wildflowers and surrounded by rugged northern coastal beauty. We line up for tuna tacos from the food truck—divine—and eventually are drawn indoors by the sounds of the band.

We dance and revel in the beauty and joy and music and love, in hugs and words too long left unspoken. Then I see my youngest son with his arms around his sister, tears in both their eyes. She is leaving the party, and I hurt for her. Like most parents, I tried for years to protect her playful, adventurous, and optimistic spirit, but I was no match for the cruel realities of life. I feel her pain, and mine, and then my son offers up another of his extended hugs, all the while talking to me, reminding me that joy never comes unadulterated, that pain always finds its way into the final product. What matters, he reminds me, is not so much that there is pain too, but that we’re here together, that there’s a lot of love, that we laughed and talked and danced and will remember today. So I set the pain aside to stay at the party. It will be waiting for later, this I know.

We dance and dance. Very late, I say good-bye to my son (he leaves early in the morning), and I am overwhelmed with gratitude to have seen him again. In the morning, thanks to my fibromyalgia, I am beyond sore. That is secondary though. My daughter and her fiancée come for breakfast, and she is smiling again, which is what I wanted most.

It takes all kinds

I’ve been occupied drawing inspiration and immense pleasure from the lovely eleven-year-old visiting us this week, but being a somewhat more earnest and analytical personality than my little houseguest, I do miss the somewhat weird, solitary and quiet activity of writing. So here I am, to sort out and integrate my observations.

I think I’m pretty social and adventurous, but along with that (contradictory as it may sound), also pretty serious-minded, timid, and somewhat averse to the frivolous. (One kind friend says I’m deeeeeep.)

Our young houseguest embodies the sense of confidence and mischief and charisma I’ve often wished for over the years. This is for her, and for all who have at times longed for the more carefree and charismatic personality traits she displays. (A friend once told me that of course, and understandably, people will always be more drawn to my charming and funny husband than they will be to me. I have always believed that a true friend values who we are. She is no longer a friend.)

To give you an idea of the level of self-assuredness this eleven-year-old is in possession of: At the airport, her luggage not showing up in the baggage claim area, she has it under control before I even wonder where we might go to register the problem—she’s already approached the appropriate baggage counter and reported the lost bag. She promptly calls her mom to announce her safe arrival, gives her the delayed baggage news, and tells her not to worry, it’s happened to her often and it won’t be a problem.

We get caught up and make some plans, plans that include some visits with some of our friends, which she readily agrees to, even though they include nobody anywhere near her age. She remembers them from last time, and says they’re fun. Keep in mind that we, and most of our friends, are four or five decades older than she is.

At dinner, she’s quick to tell one of my friends how much she likes her glasses (they’re trendier than mine, and she definitely knows trendy), and is happy to explain exactly which phone is going to be the next big thing, and why. She picks up my Blackberry, and within minutes has the password cracked (yes, I now have a better password), and sends I LUV YOU text messages to a number of my contacts.

She’s not yet on Facebook, but, my husband agreeably looking the other direction, she quickly hijacks his page and posts a mischievous status update on his behalf, something about how disappointed he was about being unable to get out of some dreadful meetings on time to go pick up his wonderful and amazing granddaughter at the airport.

At the invitation to join my daughter at a pool party in the home of people she doesn’t know at all, she agrees without hesitation, and when I pick her up, I see that she’s been her usual charming self and has both contributed to and enjoyed a nice time. She asks about my relationship with my ex-husband and his wife (who hosted the pool party), and suggests I befriend them on Facebook. They’ve also introduced her to Enneagram personality types, and now she is quick to explain to us, with a giant smile, exactly where her personality overlaps with her grandpa’s, and why they sometimes have minor altercations involving boundaries.

Monday morning marks the beginning of theatre school. Despite our busy weekend and late nights, she cheerfully gets up to the alarms she’s set on both her iPod and phone, and though she admits to a bit of nervousness and knows nobody in her class, she bids me farewell with a smile. Later, she tells me she volunteered to lead the way with the first acting exercise, not because she wasn’t nervous, but because she figured she might as well just jump in and break the ice. When I pick her up at the end of the day, she cheerfully waves good-bye to one of her classmates with a “See you tomorrow, Wife.” She has several, she explains, it’s a game she plays at home too.

When after another full day our current heat wave brought more houseguests wanting to sleep in the cool of their old basement bedrooms, she jumped up, instantly ready to socialize and chat and play.

I admire and utterly adore this young woman. She chases mischief and fun, but watching a movie depicting a young woman’s bullying at the hand of peers, she’s very quick to express empathy. I wish I had her mind and her energy, her talent and confidence. I’d love to be in possession of a personality as spirited as hers. But the good news is that, despite our society’s seeming tendency to value the more assertive, high-energy personality traits above all else, I think I may have finally, at midlife (for today at least) come to embrace the somewhat more hesitant, thoughtful, nurturing and earnest qualities I have always been in possession of.

Because it takes all kinds—both the spirited charismatic ones who provide laughter and respite from life’s harsher realities, and the more reflective, loyal, in-the-wings kind—to make the world a better place.