We drove to Chicago yesterday to see one of my cousins get married. He's a good deal younger than I am, so we've never been particularly close, but it was a lovely wedding and reception, and all the usual family was there. And as usual, the family gathering has left me in something of an introspective funk. There's nothing like a good dose of rarely-seen family to spin you around and make you look back at where you've come from.
I had a good childhood, and I like my family. But I'm something of a loner, so often through the years I've felt like an outsider, as if I'm watching the "real" family core but not actually a part of it. And then one of them will startle me with how genuinely happy they are to see me, or by asking me a question that indicates they're as up-to-date on and interested in what's going on in my life as I am of theirs. (Mothers are excellent passers-on of such information.) And I snap out of my neat little self-contained life to recognize that no matter the years and the distance, my life and those of these aunts and uncles and cousins (including the great's and the once-removed's) are intricately and irrevocably linked. We're a part of each others' histories. This is a very cool thing.
My cousin's bride belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, which is similar enough to our family's Catholic heritage that we weren't entirely lost during the ceremony. At the reception, of course, there was the mandatory Greek dancing. (I heard someone in my family dub it the "Greek conga line.")
At one point I looked out and saw my mother and her two sisters in the line. I suddenly saw them, and I was struck by what beautiful women these three are. No, they're no longer as young as they once were. They are a teacher, a nurse, and a secretary, the three professions that were respectable for young ladies in the time they grew up in, although each of them put motherhood above all else. They've buried both their parents. They've dealt with serious illnesses, their own and others.' They've raised their children and set them free (a thing which, at this point in the lives of my own children, terrifies me). Two of them have grandchildren, and the third had just married off her first son. But there they were, laughing while they danced a dance they didn't know the steps to, unafraid to be just who and where they were. I didn't join them; I guess I'm not that brave yet. They give me courage, though. They've been doing that for years, and so steadily and without fanfare that I'd never noticed.
In honor of them, I will remember to continue dancing even though I don't know the steps. And I'll smile while I'm doing so.