I took my usual seat at the head of the dinner table on Christmas evening. And, as usual, everyone was there who could be there. But there were people missing, as there tends to be when time comes calling.
As I looked around the table I was swept away with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and grace. I was grateful that I was given time to spend with the people I love the most. To laugh with them and talk with them – to listen to the same stories again and again, year after year with the expected embellishments. It was within these stories, however, that we were carried back in time to the memories and the hearts, and the relationships, experiences and lives that are an important part of the past. Mostly, though, the story-teller’s past.
I remember one year one of the younger kids asking why the “older” people all told the same stories every year. It was boring, they said. I told them that it wasn’t about the story. It was about reliving the memories it brought to the person telling them. I said, “watch their face and listen to their voice when they get to the good parts. The same parts we hear every Christmas. And listen to the other people who jump in and make it better and more exciting, even if it might not have been exactly true.”
I pushed my chair back from table and took it all in; the faces, smiles, conversation, laughter, and noise. Of dishes being passed back and forth and elbows unceremoniously on the table. Mostly, in this moment, my mind went to spaces around the table that used to be occupied by those who have left us. I truly miss their voices and their stories and their laughter and their pain. Mostly, I miss them, completely. I know it’s cliché to say hug your loved ones and tell them you love them. It’s true, though. I do, a lot.
I closed my eyes for a few moments and my wife asked if I was OK. “Oh ya,” I said. “Never better.”