Tuesday, February 2, 2010

It's impossible not to note, to myself at least, the myriad stories that cross my path every week -- or should I say, the myriad strands of others' lives I shuttle between and amongst with my own narrow, variegated thread.

Some stories writ in large themes and some less so.

Last week a church acquaintance came to a meeting, he's fussy and introverted yet kind and selectively gregarious, a world traveler, a serious fellow, a confirmed bachelor... He arrived as expected, and before removing his scarf made a few remarks and facial expressions to the effect that he was surprised he'd made it, since it had been quite a day. Unsure whether this introductory salvo required a response, I simply said "Oh? What happened today?" And heard (as did the rest of the room) an incredible tale -- worthy of film, really -- about immigration and love and paternal feeling, loss and murder, grief and heartbreak, and unexpected, wrenching reunions. It would take too long to type and would perhaps betray a confidence (though to be fair, at least a dozen people at church know about it) -- but the story itself reveals a few things. One, that a man can be known in intimate ways to people who are barely more than acquaintances, while a man's own family remains sadly in the dark about his loves and losses. Two, that homosexuality is such an over-magnified, misunderstood, dehumanized and shunned condition that it can prevent a man from ever feeling proud of his manhood as a father, as a friend, let alone as a lover; and three, that asking someone "what happened today?" is oftenest the best way of finding out more than you bargained for.

The whole thing makes me wonder why we humans are often so insufficient and unrealized when it comes to love -- why so much gets left out in the telling. Does the size of anyone's need ever exactly match the quantity that's available?

Other tales: I have met not one but two people in recent weeks who have been granted temporary custody of their grandchildren while their children do time. In both cases, these are senior citizens caring for preschoolers. I meet them because they have no money, and need food assistance. How does someone with no money, on social security or welfare, wind up with custody of a small child? By being family of course. Is this right or wrong? Neither. These grandparents are a little bewildered, though of course there is the distant memory of raising the children. They're sad, and angry, about their own child's mistakes, about incarceration. They give me pause, to consider how much (and how little) it takes to bring a child into the world and to ferry that child along.

I think about my sister, to whom I owe a phone call; who has very recently surprised me with a card announcing her third marriage, a wedding which took place privately, to a man I've never met, down in Texas. My sister is evidently the marrying kind -- she has had very very little luck with relationships to date, and I wonder how she has managed to maintain the belief that somehow the right one will come along, that somehow the marriage contract will finally make sense and apply to something tangible. She's seven years younger than I and has a young daughter. How will they fare? I confess, I haven't prayed for them. I don't know why. I will.

So it goes.

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