We have a running contest, born in days of tears and loss. He’d come to visit and during stolen minutes escaped from the crowd of relatives, we’d compare lives. The winner? Whoever was the most miserable. We ranked divorce and addiction, sickness and depression. We matched up sorrow and hopelessness, measuring the weight of each before the final winner was declared. We fed each other bites of black humor, along with solid hugs and warm hands to survive the bitter wind.
It was a new pairing for me. His face couldn’t be more familiar, and yet, I was used to catching his eye on the periphery, while I linked arms with his daughters and filled hours chattering about dreams and future plans. He was my father’s partner, matching wit for wit, and drink for drink. They were the fun ones, the life of the party, complete with napkins on their heads and boisterous laughs that garnered envy from strangers. My relationship with my mother’s brother was limited to his role as dad to my cousins and entertaining uncle.
And then we all grew up.
And the chattering stopped, napkins disappeared, and family vacations got stowed away with old pictures and dusty hiking boots. Life set in, complete with milestones and sadness, celebrations and new beginnings. We all shifted and stretched, searching for each other across distances of miles and lost words. We fumbled in our efforts at connection and marked months between shared meals.
So the contest was born. I, an adult daughter living at home once again, and he, the visiting uncle traveling the divorcee path with timid steps. We found each other beneath the blanket of family dinners stuffed with valiant efforts to recreate old times. We shared glances of pain, knowing that you can’t go home again, that tears leave scars and loss breeds loneliness. We saw common souls across the table, and clasped hands while we measured out our struggles. It was a sweet bonding, this tall bearded uncle and I, rooted by years of beach vacations and the little boy insecurity I always saw beneath his humorous persona. Troubles strip us of our masks and he and I met, while bare faced, in a world of disguises.
One of the blessings of family shows up in genuine joy for others good fortune. Should I take home the gold medal this time, I couldn’t mask my happiness for his success. And he celebrated my small steps even when he was tripping over old history and sharp edged relationships. We met on the dark side, and championed the other in the quest for the light.
And we continue to grow up.
Today we each find more smiles than tears, sure footed once again in a life that’s worth living. He discovered love and a bliss that lights up the eyes I recognize from long ago. I discovered a spot in the world to call my own and the daily gifts that bring laughter into my home. The contest now exists only as a point of reference – an inside joke of times best left behind. But we hold hands that span the coasts, and trade pep talks as reminders of forever family. Today we both lose the contest, happy to hand over our medals, and relax into hopeful futures.
I stand on the sidelines of his life, sips of updates and emails tinged with the humor that I’ve missed. Only my uncle, dropping hints of topics and wit, sends me article proposals just in case I am inspired. In today’s email, following a story about a lost earring due to camera timer hassles, I get this:
So, there must be a life lesson there somewhere.
1) Ask for help. Don't trust the camera timer.
2) Don’t buy earrings. They are just meant to adorn someone who already knows you love her.
3) Always have metal detector handy. You never know when you will need to find something hidden in your life. Preferably one that doesn't require a long cord!
There. What a great article!!! And so profound!!
Yes, so profound. Profound in the unearthing of brimming laughter, profound in the sharing of love. Profound for the re-emergence of a man filled with life, and profound for the kindness in spreading happiness. There is no other word to capture the beauty of a man escaped from old pressures and past despair. Yes, profound as an example of how to pick up the pieces and fit together new life, new dreams, while gripping the hands of those you adore, those who love you.
I think we’ll let someone else win the contest and enjoy our sunshine for today.