all of the selves we Have ever been
A Distinguished Gentleman
As I sat in the dentist’s waiting room, another patient arrived and took the seat across from mine. We both heard someone in the back say, “Barbara is here,” and she laughed.
“You must be important,” I said. This got Barbara laughing again and reflecting on her eight-year-old great-nephew scheduled to be in an upcoming family wedding. Recently, her nephew tried on the tuxedo he would wear to the event. He looked at himself in the mirror and said, “I look like a distinguished gentleman.”
Barbara delighted in describing her precocious great-nephew. I, too, love the earnestness of children, and I pictured the boy staring at himself in the mirror with his eyes full of pride and his heart filled with dreams.
I waited for my own appointment dressed in amazement--amazed that there is still a child living in this crazy world today who believes that distinguished gentlemen exist! I thought the species had become extinct. I urgently wanted to find the young man to encourage this desire in him and to provide some advice before the world twists his noble ambitions.
If only clothes could make the man, a massive wardrobe change would be in order. I wanted to warn this sweet child that it is not by the treasure of a man’s closet that he distinguishes himself. No, a man distinguishes himself by the treasure of his heart.
Just this week more children and school staff were gunned down inside a grade school. An elected Nashville representative said there is nothing that can be done. A helpless elected official who homeschools his own children and leaves the others to perish does not distinguish himself as leader no matter what he is wearing; he reduces himself to an unwitting accomplice in the next school shooting. Do these words truly reflect the treasure of this man’s heart?
I cannot bear another helpless round of “thoughts and prayers.” It is time for examination. Let us not become a culture extinguished by guns and violence. Let us be a people distinguished by the good treasure of our hearts. Let our words and actions reflect the treasures we value. Surely, our children are among them.
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” - Luke 6:45
"You don’t know how lucky you are to be loved,” Meg said in a startled way, “I guess I never thought of that. I guess I just took it for granted.” – A Wrinkle in Time
We didn’t know it then, but it would be the last time we would all be together in this common joy, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandchildren, great-nieces, and great-nephews. It was a reunion engineered by Cousin Marcia. “Just cuz," she said.
We came from far and near toting car seats into the home where once we had been carried as babies ourselves. Familiar voices slipped out of the house and onto the front porch as soon as the door swung open. Inside, the table overflowed with favorite foods that smelled of home, prepared from cherished family recipes passed down for generations. With every seat in the room already taken, our bottoms rested on the upholstered arms of chairs even as our own arms clung to the shoulders of people we had loved for a lifetime. Out on the basketball court, just beyond the kitchen door, Cousin Tom lifted petite second-cousin Elizabeth onto his shoulders so she could dunk a basketball.
In this home, we first cousins were simultaneously young and old—children and grown-ups. If the walls could talk, they would remember each of us. Somewhere in this precious place, our childhood shadows were stuffed into drawers awaiting our returns.
Here, now, our children sat on the same porch steps, ran down the same long driveway, slammed the same doors, marveled at the same tiny bathroom under the stairs. As my own children were being stirred into this love cocktail, my eyes surveyed the property that had once been a fantasy island: the built in-swimming pool, a pasture where a horse had grazed, a play house, a basketball hoop, a tennis court. The ghost of a sleepy Lassie dog rested on the warm asphalt taking it all in too. Inside the house, books lined the living room shelves and a piano occupied the space in front of the window. This place had been our personal Magic Kingdom where every childhood interest had been encouraged.
“…the joy and love were so tangible that Meg felt that if she only knew where to reach
she could touch it with her bare hands.” – A Wrinkle in Time
Through the archway I saw into the family room where my mother sat illuminated by sunlight and memory. The brilliant and beloved youngest of my grandmother’s many children, mom had a rare moment to be the center of attention. A new generation became her enraptured audience hanging on to her every word.
This home belonged to our adored Uncle John and his wife, Aunt Janet. Kind and unshakeable, generous, and a lover of gadgets and emerging technology, if he bought one new item, Uncle John bought nine—one for himself and one for each of his sisters and his brother. Aunt Janet never complained. The latest miracle invention revealed on this Cousin Reunion Day was the hot air popcorn popper. Even as the sun began to set, fluffy, fresh popped kernels rose from the machine’s spout, but even magical popcorn could not make the day last forever. We loaded our cars in preparation for our departures, each of us believing that there would be more popcorn on a future day, that this was the first of many cousin reunions to come. We strapped ourselves and our children inside the vehicles that would rocket us to our homes in distant galaxies and far from this star where all of our lives began.
As we pulled away, Cousin Tom stood in the driveway holding a sign: “Does anyone have to tinkle?” We left laughing at this reminder of Aunt Gen’s frequent and famous last words, a necessary question in an extended family where as many as 21 nieces and nephews might be traveling in a single pack.
Of course, we had all tinkled! It was a life lesson not eliminated but retained, a lesson written in a family language for words too impolite to shout in public, a tutorial on self-care, being prepared, and showing consideration for others.
As the procession of cars inched down the driveway, we looked back at this place that had been our sun. We each had journeyed through space and time on many a quest. Sometimes we returned to celebrate, other times, we returned to console. And then the demands of life grew along with our families. We never reconvened for another cousin reunion. Now, I ask myself, “Where did the years go?”
It was all just a tinkle in time.