We had a feast at my house the other night. It felt like a billion of my closest friends dropped by for dinner, but when I sit and actually count heads I realize there were only about twenty-five of us.
But still, twenty-five. Twenty-five is a big number when you consider all those people are your immediate family — your parents and their children and their children’s children. And that was with a few people missing.
When my family gets together it is animated and loud and exhausting. It’s also some of the most fun I ever have. We sit and laugh and talk and talk louder.
The occasion for this recent gathering was my brother’s surprise visit. He and his wife and their baby came in to see us all and they decided to surprise my parents. It was hard keeping that secret for so many weeks, tricky to be on the road to pick them up from the airport and not let on where I was headed when I pulled out of the driveway.
We surprised my dad at work and then drove the half-mile home to surprise my mom. I was in the car behind my dad and brother and by the time I rounded the corner towards the driveway my mom had already spotted my brother and was flying across the porch towards the car, her bright orange headscarf bobbing above the hedge.
I pulled in the driveway to see their tight embrace, my mom and brother hugging each other at last. This was his first time seeing her since she started her chemo and it was emotional and good.
That night we had the dinner at my house, those of us who were able to gather coming together. I sat there and looked at the faces of those around my table and realized this is what heaven feels like — being surrounded by the people you love so much, being filled with gratitude for the gift of these people in your life.
When I was younger, I had no idea I would grow up and consider my brothers and sisters as my friends. They drove me nuts, my younger siblings. I loved them, of course, but friends and siblings were two separate groups entirely.
And now, I count each and every one of these people among my favorites. I’m lucky because the people they’ve married are among my favorites too. Getting together with my family is some of the most fun I have.
But this doesn’t come naturally, and it isn’t always easy. When we were growing up, my parents worked hard to help us work on these relationships, to help sibling relating have the hope of friendship. It takes work and it takes training; a child must be taught communication tools and patience — but mostly love. It takes learning to have a heart of love for those in this great big world, but also right here in your own little home.
When I look at my brothers and sisters, when I think about the love I have for them and the love they have for me, I am excited and encouraged for my own children. I’m also committed to continuing the challenging task of training them to love each other, to be inspired by the way my parents taught us. My children — these boys, this girl — they have the opportunity to be among each others greatest allies.
Their best hope of that is to learn now to relate the way they should, to recognize the gift of family and the gift of siblings.
It isn’t always easy, it doesn’t happen overnight. But I look at the efforts of my mom and dad, how hard they worked to teach us to love and respect each other, and I know it’s possible. And I know it’s worth the effort.
This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.