And so this is the inheritance;
this is the air which connects us
with dead men and the dawning
of new beings not yet come to light.
—Pablo Neruda, from "The Word"
Pablo Neruda was talking about words and language when he said this, but it keeps coming to my mind as a description of family connection. I don't know exactly why or how we are connected. I don't know if we "chose each other" before this life, and I know there's not much Latter-day Saint doctrine about how and when our family relationships were decided.
It's one of my great astonishments, these developing independent relationships between my kids. I don't know why it's such a surprise to me, but somehow in all the years of thinking and wondering about how they would respond to me, and how I should interact with them, I hadn't given as much thought to what they would be to each other. And yet I'm starting to see how they might even affect each other more than Sam and I affect them!
And it's so tangible, this connection! Maybe if I didn't have so many children among whom to observe it, I might have missed it, but seeing the threads of similarity weaving in and out and between all of them, it's unmistakeable. I don't know exactly what causes it, but it's not just proximity- or profit-driven. It's almost like in a maypole dance (have you ever done one of those? We performed one at my sixth-grade dance program, so I've probably practiced it 100 times) when you have all those different colors of ribbons going over and under each other and pulling out in different directions, but when you're done they're all braided together around the central point, making a pattern that's hard to categorize but is clearly not random. Our kids are like Sam and me in some ways, but they're also like each other in ways that bypass Sam and me altogether, and they connect not just with the siblings close to them in age, but with all of each other in different aspects and permutations, weaving these patterns that both amaze and baffle me at the same time.
I wonder, too, how I would see the same back-and-forth ties emerging if I could go back into the generations of our families, or forward into my children's children. I'm pretty sure that the same thing that draws the older kids to the babies, to "the dawning/ of new beings not yet come to light," will pull us to the "dead men," our ancestors, if we let it. I guess we could call it "the Spirit of Elijah," but that doesn't really tell us what it IS—just that Elijah had it too.
And so I love this quote by Elder Neal A. Maxwell:
"I am so grateful…for a part of mortality that we sometimes overlook: the intertwinings of our lives. I acknowledge the Lord’s hand in these intersections…One of the reasons we love each other in the kingdom is that our friendships are not friendships of initiation at all but are, instead, friendships of resumption! It should not surprise us, brothers and sisters, that Heavenly Father brings about these intersectings and intertwinings of our lives. You and I may call these intersectings “coincidence.” This word is understandable for mortals to use, but coincidence is not an appropriate word to describe the workings of an omniscient God. He does not do things by “coincidence” but instead by “divine design.”
And whatever their source, it's such a delight to me to watch these "intertwinings," as Elder Maxwell called them, wrapping the kids together, in and out and around. Oh, they fight, of course. They hurt each others' feelings and vow to "never, ever let you play in my bed again" (this is a common threat, for some reason), but far more often, they have these moments of pure and luminous connection, so strong and so pervasive that I might almost feel irrelevant—except that I'm simply proud of myself for, I don't know, assembling such a group! It's like when I introduce two people I know, who don't know each other, and they hit it off. It makes me so happy. (Maybe my true calling is as a matchmaker?) Take Daisy and Junie, for example. There are so many funny little secrets they have with each other; things I wouldn't even know about except for the little glimpses I happen to run up against. Like when I said something about octopus and Daisy and Junie looked at each other and repeated "OCK-to-pus!" in unison and then burst out laughing. Or when I hear them chanting over and over in their room at night, "What-a-good-salad! What-a-good-salad!" Or when we went to a wedding shower with rubber duckies decorating the tables, and I got distracted for a time, and when I re-focused my attention, they had about 50 duckies arranged in a circle and they were singing, in perfect unison, some song I'd never heard before with words like "Here I go, into the drain! Here I go, into the rain! Come with a duck to the par-ty!"
And looking back, I can remember moments of connection like that, with my brothers. Small at the time, but important enough to stay in my memory, as clear as if they happened yesterday. Like once when my brother Philip and I were up late doing homework in the living room. He said something and it got us both laughing. Everyone else was asleep. We were smothering ourselves with pillows, trying to be quiet, but my fits of laughter were the kind that keep coming back. Every time I tried to get back to work I'd be overtaken with another convulsion of giggles, which would trigger Philip again. It went on so long that I started to feel genuinely hysterical, and Philip got control of himself and sat me down on the couch and said, "Maybe it's your blood sugar" (which set me off again), and went out to the dark kitchen and got me some orange juice, and then sat next to me and insisted I drink every drop. It seemed to me like the most caring, solicitous moment. I remember thinking, "This is what I want. Someday I will marry someone who will take care of me in just this way."
Or when Karl bought us tickets to the Tom Stoppard play "Arcadia" at the U of U (we shared a love for "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead"), and we made pizza and then brought it with us in the car while we drove up to Salt Lake, windows down, eating it and burning our mouths and listening to Rush on the radio and talking about my just-begun high school experiences. It seemed so exotic and grown-up to be going just with Karl, without my parents, and I distinctly remember having the thought as we got onto the freeway, "I wish this night could last forever."
Or when my brother Kenneth took me with him to the track while he practiced running hurdles, and he let me move the hurdles for him, and introduced me to all his friends. I ran beside him on the grass as long as I could, and then I lay on the high jump mat looking up at the clouds and feeling the warmth of the mat come right up through my back and into my chest.
My friend Nancy (who is also the one who found that Maxwell quote for me; thank you Nancy!) wrote a post about little things becoming big things, and it made me think of just how—well, almost arbitrary these memories seem. Why did these little moments stick with me when so many others have faded? It makes me so curious about what moments with each other my children will be remembering when they are grown-up, looking back on it all. Will it be their weird little names for each different kind of streetlamp in the city (elbow lights, pointy-pointy-pointy lights, HEY lights), or the way they told each other silly stories about some character called Person-Fun (??!), or the weeks of being each others' "Night-servant" and "Morning-servant"—or some game I haven't even heard of but all of them know about?
I know I can't control how they see each other; which slights push them apart or which little kindnesses bring them close again. And I know they will have other people beyond their siblings to "intertwine" with in their lives—hopefully lots of them! But I think there is such hope in that gentle, constant tugging of connection; those fragile breaths of air that, shared, make them—make all of us—want to keep belonging to each other, day after day after day.