Saturday, September 5, 2009

The People "In" Your Life . . .

We went to a wedding this evening for one of Joy's very closest friends from her Baltimore days. We sat at a table with three of Joy's former co-workers and their husbands (two of them) and boyfriend (the third one) and a couple we had never met before.

I have always loved the social dynamics of a wedding reception. The idea of the bride and groom (or their planner or that overbearing mother-in-law or whomever) pouring over the details of the entire RSVP list and whom to sit with whom and how to mix the circles of your life with minimal friction. I've been to at least 30 weddings in my life and I've never NOT had a good time at the table I was seated at but I know plenty of horror stories and nightmares that friends and family have endured.

I am setting the table here (pun sorta' intended) for a larger point (realization, rather) that popped in to my head somewhere between the salad service and entrees.

Here Joy and I were - at one of the most beautiful wedding locations I have had the pleasure of witnessing nuptials at with some folks that my wife loves very much and the men they love very much and we spent the previous evening with friends that I love very much and the people they love very much and we had lunch with my brother (whom we love very much) and his girlfriend (whom we are loving more and more as we get to know her better) and we were back in a world where so many people that we love live and yet . . . we rarely talk with any of these people (save for my brother Ryan) and we e-mail rarely and mainly rely on Facebook and other "lazy man's" communications methods to stay up to date with them (and them with us) and yet we have no doubt that we really do love all of them and we "know" all of them and they know and love us.

The question then, I guess, is what does it take to really have someone "in" your life? How do you quantify or qualify friendship or other relationships (I'm not just rambling about friends here but what about family, etc.)?

Is it time spent in the same room? Is it phone calls or e-mails? Is it how often you think of them as you pull petals off a wild flower or throw pennies in a fountain? Is it how much you wish you could be with them? Is it how passionately you want great things for them? Is part of it how much time you had spent together or how close you were before you got separated by whatever forces that interrupted your time? Is it how often you got drunk or broke bread together? Is it how much you know about their families or lives? Is there ANY formula or rhyme or reason?

I'll get to my point now (big sigh of relief, dear readers) . . . I mentioned that we saw some great friends over the weekend but only one person (save for the bride and groom exchanging vows) that we spent time with made Joy and I cry. And that was the strangers at our table.

(DISCLAIMER - I'm a HUGE fan of the human experience. I'm a firm believer that people who keep secrets or harbor themselves are not really living to life to its fullest (I used to be that way - WAY over-rated). I'll also acknowledge that I'm very much in the minority on my belief that you can not "over-share" if your sharing is genuine and sincere so the following might shock some of you.)

Joy and I were seated next to the "newbies" at the table so we took it upon ourselves to exchange pleasantries. "I'm Sean, this is my wife Joy." "We live in Wichita, Kansas but used to live and got to know Rob and Elise while living here in Baltimore." "I do enjoy the Smothers Brothers but more for Dick than for Tom." "I work in advertising and Joy is an event planner." You know - the usuals. Then came that exchange that can either immediately bond or break any casual chat with strangers at a wedding reception (no, not "Do you know how to do the Electric Slide?" . . . "We have one daughter. Ava. She's three. Do you have children?"

Awkward silence. Welling of a tear. Quiet response "Yes. We have a daughter, also Ava, and we lost her twin brother. He was stillborn."

Plenty of people would have faked a cell phone call, reached for the bread and butter or just turned back to the party on the other side of the table at this point. Not Joy and I though. Nope. Joy leaned in and we were off to the races of story telling, understanding, empathizing and crying. Such a striking story. 10 years of IVF. 10 years of praying and worrying and trying. 10 years of frustration. 9 months of joy and happiness that you are having twins and your prayers have been answered. 1 defining moment when your family gets reduced by 25% before you ever get to hug or hold him. What should be four is now three. WAY better than two but . . .

Joy and I know about losing pregnancies and fertility woes. We know nothing (first hand) about still born babies but we know about frustration and sadness and anger that comes out of the challenges to create life. We bonded instantly with our neighboring couple and felt such a connection to them (I leave their names out of this post because this is their story - not my place to share (in case anyone thinks I didn't catch their names here)).

Then, one of those moments I will never forget happened. The proud mother slid a "brag book" across the table. "These are some pictures of our Ava," she beamed. "And then, in the back, is a picture of our son," she whispered. "You don't have to look at it. We (gestures to husband) still haven't and don't know when I will," she gently wept.

Joy and I looked at each other and started thumbing through the pictures of Ava. We made eye contact at the last picture of Ava almost asking "Do we look?" I mean I didn't know if we were talking about an ultra-sound here or . . . Luckily Joy was in control of the flipping and she was insistent that we honor these parents and look at their children.

She flipped that last page and there he was. In a cap. Wrapped in a blanket. Eyes closed. Lips pursed. Looking exactly like (no more or less angelic) any other new born baby. I cried (I'm crying typing this) at the idea of carrying around a picture of a deceased child, having never seen him or held him or them never knowing you or your post-womb comforts. It all seemed impossibly unfair and beautiful. I ached for our Ava. I wanted to hold her and kiss her and tell her I love her. I ached for their Ava who might never really (pray God) truly understand why her Mom and Dad are sorta' sad every year on her birthday.

My emotions forced me to hug and kiss (on the cheek) a total stranger and to hold the hand of a man I had just met moments earlier. I looked at them and sobbed "He's absolutely beautiful and looks so peaceful and happy, thank you for sharing this with us." They nodded back an implied "Thanks." I realized that I had not said something too stupid or overbearing and I had not over empathized or made myself out to be too much of an ass (trust me, dear readers, this could have gone HORRIBLY wrong for Old Sean and his love of champagne at wedding receptions).

I share this story to round back to my original question. What defines a relationship? Who are we "allowed" to love? How do they know we love them and are we just assuming they love us back?

We shared this evening and the larger weekend with friends from a previous life who we still consider friends and who we still have affection for. We had a daughter 1,300 miles away. We have parents and siblings tossed around Kansas and the Northeast United States. We have friends every where we've ever been and yet I've never seen anyone have a clearer connection to another human being than these parents had for their son.

They had never held him (save for the mother holding him in her womb) or kissed him. He'd never heard their voice. They had never soothed him back to sleep. He'd never won the science fair and made them proud. Yet here they were, forever tied. Forever a family. Forever impacting each other. Forever, through sharing their story and seeing that picture, impacting Joy and I.

We had a great weekend. We saw some good friends and promised to see them again soon and to do a better job of staying in touch. We met the daughter of good friends. We saw a couple in their early stages of love. We saw a couple start their official shared life together. We saw places and faces that meant so much to us. None of that, for me, had the impact or importance of this couple and their son.

Their sharing made it okay for me to go on saying that I love the people that I don't spend enough time with or speak with often enough. It is not, I realized, about time spent or e-mails exchanged or text messages sent. It is not about empty promises to see each other "soon."

NONE of that is what real relationships are about. They don't define you in a relationship. Nope. If you love someone and you carry them in your heart and if you have ever suffered for and with them or if they have ever suffered with or for you that is all it takes.

In my opinion (and that is truly all that matters, right?) you can be friends or family (or both, ideally) or share any other level of a relationship for life just for sharing love, affection and struggle.

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