Anyone is fortunate to have one family they hold close. I have two. Actually, the second is an extension of the first because I wouldn’t know them otherwise. This past summer, both families, together, experienced much joy and loss.
A 30th birthday romp through NYC that ended in an artist’s loft straight out of “Sex and the City” … my 50th extravaganza which brought together both families for the best party ever… and the most beautiful, magical wedding I’ve attended… all were book-ended by two incredibly sad memorials.
Through the most tragic and most joyous of occasions, I relished experiencing the vividness of life together with them throughout this summer vacation. Call me crazy, but it is one of the best I’ve had.
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
~ Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
The great thing about my second family is that because they haven’t had to put up with me in the same fashion as my siblings and parents, I am free to be seen from a less cloudy lens. My primary role was as a nanny to the kids with whom it is now easy to be friends, not only because of the shared memories, but because I got to go home every weekday at 5pm. My relationship with them doesn’t have the burden of parenthood and living together 24/7. Let’s face it, when three adoring children run to the door screaming, “Kim’s here, Kim’s here!” upon your arrival, that’s hard to beat. And okay, maybe there isn’t the same childish exuberance now that they’re grown, but I know it’s still there and it’s worth the world to me.
As such, I’ve had the privilege, for over 30 years, to be part of this family while having a baggage free vantage point as an outsider. I’ve often related to the Charles Ryder character in “Brideshead Revisited” for just this reason. And this vantage point has informed, as well as augmented my relationship with my first family.
One of the best aspects of my second family is that my friendship spans three generations. Kids. Parents. Grandparents. Until I became part of this family, I’d never been friends with anyone from my parents’ generation, or in this case, even older. Bobby (the children’s grandmother) died this past May at age 94, and she and her husband, Norman (who died in 2006) were truly my friends. I met them in my 20’s. They exposed me to so many great things, taught me much and their homes in both Greenwich Village and the Hamptons were great oases for me when I lived in New York.
I remember admiring Norman’s art of conversation. His sitting in his big, fan backed wooden chair, feet up on a large wicker ottoman. He’d be back-lit by the floor to ceiling glass panels which allowed a view to the ocean in their Sagaponack living room. There he’d sit, as on his throne, and ask my opinion about a news story he’d just read in the New York Times resting on his lap. Often this could lead to an enlightening, sometimes heated, discussion. I loved the intellectual stimulation which taught me, at a young age, that I much prefer an evening of discussion with interesting people than mindless amusements or chit chat. Other times it seemed Norman initiated conversations in a deliberate attempt to push his daughter’s buttons, which he was masterful at and she was hard pressed to not fall prey to.
It is hard to grasp they are gone. Gladly, so many things in my current life – the daylilies in my backyard from Bobby’s gardens, my afternoon pot of lapsang souchong tea, their artwork that hangs on my walls – continually remind me of them. I hope to follow their example of fostering friendships with those younger than myself. I hope to influence others as graciously and be as open to hearing new perspectives as they always seemed to be. I hope to leave a legacy of memories as rich.
So, in terms of the purpose of this blog, I’m not sure what lessons this entry is meant to impart. “Carpe diem” seems most obvious. If there’s anything that contributes to success, certainly having such a wealth of unconditional love in my life has been key for me. Maybe my intent is to publicly express my gratitude, and, given mortality, perpetuate; to make myself known. More likely, I suspect it is easier (i.e., safer) for me to acknowledge the depth of my feelings here than be accused of being sappy in person. Certainly I will rest easier knowing I have expressed my indebtedness for the gifts I’ve gained from them. How much they mean to me. And how much I love my family. Both of them.