This morning, Margaret, Pippa, and I catch a ride from Josiah and head out to O’Hare Airport where (contrary to what one might expect) we will not get a plane flight, but rather will rent a car to drive to Ypsilanti. The plane flight comes later; for today, we have to say a sad and appreciative goodbye to Si and Laura and our Harris-McVetty home, and navigate northeast to spend a short day-and-a-half with Nate and Laura. The week that the H-McV’s have sheltered us has gone by in a blink, and that blink has been nothing but happiness, an outward and visible sign of the kind of harmony and delight we anticipate for the even greater home we will share bye and bye.
Hard to leave as it is, it will thrill me anew to see Laura and Nate; spending Thanksgiving alone in Scotland when Margaret and my kids and their spouses gathered at the Dunbar-Adam flat in Ypsi gave me a serious case of loneliness. I could use a sizable dose of Laura D. to chase the memories of that weekend.
One can imagine all sorts of reasons for feeling distant from family, for feeling unimpressed or even resentful about the prospect of settling down with a beloved partner for life — that’s totally fair and understandable. Anyone who wants to register a protest in the name of single-person’s rights will get no pushback from me (and it’s a concern I try to keep explicit in church-related doings). Let’s distinguish, though, the social compulsion to pair off and nest (on one hand) from a theological basis for sharing joy with others, for which life-in-family provides one cardinal vehicle. “It is not good for this creature to be alone” — and our destiny is not isolation, but solidarity. Even the hermits people their lives with visits from angels, demons, friendly and hostile beasts, plants, and visions. In sociality and solitude, it’s all about the tuning; families can destroy, solitude can bless, and a harmonious blend of either builds up that sense that something greater than just my interests, my priorities, my very limited insight into a staggeringly complicated creation, or my preferences is at stake. Despair and joy can each give us a peek at that greater alternative, and despair’s vision may even be sharper. And yet, it is out of love’s joy that we learn a Way that despair does not comprehend, that enters into deepest grief and does not stop there. Maudlin sentimentality surfeits, pleasure palls and fades, and these provide no bulwark against the gravitational pull of gloom. Love, even warped, dented, destructive love gives a shimmering glint of something else. And when we can draw near that something else, when we can cultivate it, blossom before it, amp it up and turn it loose on behalf of the world, we’re doing some of what families are good for.
Such as what Laura and Nate, Laura and Si, Pippa, Jennifer, Margaret, and a swirling cavalcade of friends and relations do for me. Moving on, I don’t leave them behind, nor they me. They make me possible, make my joy possible, offer me some of what I can in turn offer others. And I think that this begins to touch some of the point of Christmas. “God bless us, every one!”