A significant observance of history took place last week, right here in Sandy Springs. I doubt many took note, as the significance was portioned out between my brother’s family and mine. It was the first time in months we enjoyed a quorum.
The breadth of time in the room was sweeping — from my mother Margaret at age 92 to her great-grandson Hugh at age 1 and a handful of months. She was born into a world that did not yet have rotary-dial telephones. He came into a world where a rotary phone is a museum piece and today’s must-have wireless phone will be obsolete in 18 months.
In between the two, a wealth of family history has taken place. Births, first days of school, graduations, first dates, first kisses, first checking accounts, going to college, job changes, address changes, cats, dogs, hamsters — it seems not quite tenable that so much family history can be contained in one room. Not to mention what has taken place in the world. But it can.
There was a time when it was common for three generations to live in one home. Knowing one’s grandparents and great-grandparents was as everyday as knowing one’s siblings. Today we are besprinkled across the landscape. While we live five minutes away from mom, brother Tom and his family have been in Maryland for 25 years. Or is it 30?
And his oldest daughter, Angela, her husband and young Hugh are down in Florida. Getting everyone into one place requires precision planning and judicious scheduling of vacation time.
Too often, family is relegated to second-class citizenship in our lives. Pop psychology tells us that we get to choose our friends, but our family is chosen for us. I guess that gives us a convenient out if we need one.
Some say family is not so much chosen for us as thrust upon us, but the fact remains that so much of what makes us us comes from the crucible of our early years. To deny that is like trying to control the phases of the moon with an eggbeater.
My mother lived through wars, the Great Depression, amazing advances in medicine, landing on the moon — not to mention the birth of the Internet. Her great-grandson arrived at a time when we can instantly connect to anyone, anywhere in the world with a device that fits in the palm of his tiny hand. Grasping today is a day’s work — I have no concept of what the world will look like when he has a great-grandchild.
This has no pithy ending. I’m not going to attempt to gather everything into a neat little bundle that addresses family, the passing of time and our changing world. Rather I’m just going to give thanks that I was still able to be in one room with so much familial jubilation flowing through the air.
We are adjured to be human doings, not human beings. However, the sweetest, dearest moments arrive in the stillness and quiet that come with the latter.
Jim Osterman lives in Sandy Springs. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution