Beginner's Heart

the author

the author

Today my niece, nephew, & my delightfully vocal grand-niece came over. I’d made chowder & skillet cornbread, and my husband had railroad ties to go. It was a good plan: I got to coo over all three ‘kids’!

Little makes me as happy as babies and family. And when I have both in one room — my accomplished niece and her elf princess daughter — I’m beyond content.

I have no idea how America managed before decent transportation. When I was a child, I read all the Little House books. One of the (many) things that remained with me was the isolation of the various moves, from a lengthy trip through the Big Woods to the middle-of-nowhere prairie. What I remember was the necessity of relying on only your nuclear family, as no one else could reach you w/out a LOT of effort.

As the child who grew up spending weeks one end at a beloved aunt’s, or a grandmother’s, or even a great-aunt’s, I was a sure of my extended family as I was of the sun. Until we moved, when I was eight. At that point, I hadn’t read the Little House books, and I was certain my grandmother & great-aunt would disappear. Life, I believed, was only in the immediate present. W/out me there? Grandma, Aunt Bonnie — all my old ladies and younger ones — would thin at the edges like a photo from time travel gone awry.

the author's

the author’s

This past week has been full of family, which has grown my beginner’s heart at least two sizes! There was tea, there was visiting, there were photo shoots and old stories, and finding out things I never knew (and I’m a pretty hardcore collector of family stories!). All three of my sisters and I took one of my two remaining aunts to high tea — real high tea, w/ food for dinner and scones, sweets, etc. As well as POTS of tea, of course. Later, we met my other aunt & her 2 daughters for coffee.

I should be familied out, but instead? I’m warm, cozy, and loved. My aunts still remember me as a baby. As the preschooler who was flower girl in each of their weddings. As the rebellious teenager who needed counselling & affirmation. As the hesitant young mother of sons. As the daughter grieving as their sister descended into the black hole of Alzheimer’s. And now? They indulge me in my novice rôle of grandmother, a part they each have played to perfection, for many years. With their support, I’m one pearl in a long string of precious pearls. We go back decades; they go back further. We are the offspring of pioneer women, teachers, mothers & healers & brave divorcées. History beats within us, linked hearts in a chain of family.

via wikimedia

via wikimedia

For those of us seeking to expand our limited human hearts, family is a wonderful first step. It’s easy to love your aunts, cousins, nieces. And of course who doesn’t love my sisters?? Seriously — the Dalai Lama reminds us that it is easy to love our mothers, but that we need to try to extend from that starting point, that first bright point of love. He says begin with what easy, then step out. This is how I do it, with the easiest of open embraces: my mother’s sisters, daughters, and grandchildren. And my own. It’s no hardship at all. Just the recognition of all that connects us.