My Nephew Graduated from High School

This is going to be the kind of maudlin reflection that blog posts are “supposed” to be but I usually don’t engage in because of the “serious nature” of this blog.  But it’s late, I’m tired, and I want to get in my self-mandated posts for what will be a very busy Sunday. 

We’re having the last Traditional Latin Mass in Columbia for the foreseeable future.  The FSSP are not going to make the trip anymore for such a small congregation.  I had a hard time making it myself, so I hardly blame them.  Then the kids are doing vacation Bible school in the evening.  So I may not be able to post again till the night.

So, we went to my nephew’s graduation party today.  Today was also “Protest the Pill” day.  I never ordered the T-shirts, as I’d intended to do all through the month of May.  And there’s only so much to do.  And perhaps we made some kind of witness today, anyway.

My sister had a little display.  It had his senior pictures in their nice portfolio, and some others.  It had a little framed picture of his elementary school graduation, or maybe kindergarten or something like that.  We sure do a lot of graduations in our society.

So I picked up the picture, and I exclaimed, “Wow!  It’s Jeffrey!  I haven’t seen him in years!”

I think one of the Big Questions About Heaven is “What will we look like?”

My grandmother’s brother who died around the age of 12 said, in his dying moment, “I see millions of children playing.”  Jesus of course said the Kingdom is made of children.  In the final chapters of The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis describes the sainted Narnians and Friends of Narnia as being “youths”: somewhere in young adulthood, but with the freshness and livelienss of childhood mixed with the wisdom and solemnity of age.

He tries some similar descriptions in The Great Divorce.

I always wonder what our “ideal selves” are.  Do we stay whatever age we are when we die?  Some people say everyone will be 33, since that’s the age traditoin tells us Christ was.  Why do people have such beautifully colored hair in their childhood, then, if they live a “ripe old age,” spend most of their lives with gray hair?  Does everyone who dies after 40 have gray hair in Heaven ? Very boring attire for a God who so obviously loves diversity. 

I think of my Grandma as being Grandma.  Maybe the 70s she was in when I was little; maybe the 90s she was in when she died.  But I think of her as “Grandma.”  If I make it to Heaven, and see her there, will she be “Grandma,” as I know her, or will she be the young lady in the painting her brother the artist did of her?  Will she be even younger?  Do people look different to us based upon our relationship to them?  After all, Jesus appears to some as an Infant and others as the Crucified, and to others as in his adult ministry.

Would my Grandma be a different person to me, my dad, my grandpa, or to her own mother?

Every month, I have dreams of my wife.  In those dreams, she’s always the same, but she is different than in reality.  It’s an idealized her.  I wonder if that’s what she’s like in Heaven.

When I think of Jeffrey, I still think of the little boy who used to come over to our house when we lived around the block from him.  I was 13 when he was born.  He was 7 and I was 20 when we moved.  I got married.  Family dramas happened. Time passed.

Mary and I came back to South Carolina.  Went back to Sumter.  He was now 15.  He was about the age I was when he used to come over to my house most afternoons.  I now had my own little kids, who’d come over to his house and play with him. 

When the Transformers  movie came out 2 years ago, he got out his box of Transformers toys: most of which I’d given him. 

We moved to Columbia.  He became Clara’s godfather.

Jeffrey is perpetually 4 to 7 in my mind.  When I visit my sister’s house, I walk in expecting to see that little boy again. 

As with my grandparents’ anniversary party last summer, certain absences were very palpable.  Absences that, were they there, may have been very painful yet, there was a grief greater than that of death.

Life is complicated that way. 

My sister was sad.  Sad about those absences in particular.  Sad that the party she’d planned for months hadn’t turned out as well-attended as she’d hoped (yet there was no room for more cars).  Sad, I think, that there seemed to be a division among the family even there, though it was more situational than anything.  Her in-laws in the back yard; we in the front yard.  It was more practical than personal. 

People you’ve known for 24/25 years, whom you haven’t seen in half that time.  My sister’s mother in law went from someone I’d seen regularly, and had many good conversations with, to someone I’ve seen three times since I married: my wedding, a brief coincidental visit two years ago when we lived in Sumter, and today.  I never knew his sister and her family very well, but they’d often come to Sumter on holidays, and haven’t seen them in years.

My brother-in-law’s niece and nephew refer to my parents as “Grandma and Grandpa Hathaway.”  There mother is pretty much my dad’s age.   She was already in college when her younger brother was born, and he said that, when he annoyed her growing up, she’d say, “You were going to be my pool!”

Family is so important.  My brother in law understands that, because he never had much. 

I of course, tend to the belief that “family” should be more a matter of beliefs than biology, but, at this stage in my life, I see both sides. 

Funny thing, though.  I’m the family’s “religious nut.”  I am part of the reason for one of those divisions, because of someone who would constantly berate me for my faith.  Constantly pick fights, when I just wanted my brother back.  Constantly attack me for being pro-life, for being so devout in my faith.  Constantly tell me that I didn’t know any better, that I would learn when I got to college, etc.  And it was always done when no one else was around, so others would come along just when I was blowing  up, and she’d say, “See?  See?  He’s unstable!”

Ironically, though, while my disagreements with Catholic or recently lapsed Catholic relatives are somewhat notorious in my family, I’m also the one the non-Catholic relatives feel free to talk to.

While the individuals involved in that sad situation above are now “absences,” and while those “behind the scenes” discussions are notorious in my family, there have been plenty of other private conversations that are not so notorious.

For there have been plenty of times over the years when my agnostic brother in law has come to me with questions about religion that he wouldn’t ask anyone else. 

There have been plenty of times when his congregationalist mother has come and sat with me when I was by myself at a family gathering and talked to me about Catholic saints she admires, prayer life, etc.

I don’t understand social skills.  I’m not interested in the things most people are interested in.  I get uncomfortable in large groups of people.   I’ve learned how to “mingle” more than I used to.  Ironically, at events now, one of my greatest challenges is juggling my responsibility of chasing after my kids with the responsibility of mingling.

I actually impress Mary with how I manage to converse.

But I think of my sister’s high school graduation, 26 years ago.  She started college, my middle brother started high school, and I started first grade, all in the same year.  Her high school graduation party, and my eldest brother’s graduation party a year later, were both packed with people.

I, for my part, was terrified.  A geeky little kid who could barely see, trying to make my way in a crowd of people at my house, which was suddenly an alien place.  But it still cool having so many people there: our vast family in the town where my father’s family had lived for generations.  Relatives from out of town.  Numerous friends and acquaintances.

My sister was expecting something like that today, but it didn’t materialize.  A town where they’ve lived since 1987, and where we moved to a year later, but not really any family there.  A few of their friends.  Some family friends who are family.  And my parents, and us, and my brother in law’s sister and her family.  And so many absences.

And my sister was sad. 

We had a good time.  I’d wished we could have mingled more, but I was trying to keep an eye on the kids.  I got to talk to my nephews, very briefly.  I got to talk to their cousins, with whom I was never particularly close, but whom I’ve known for almost a quarter century, and who used to be just as much a part of family gatherings as any of my biological relatives back in PA. 

Haven’t seen them since at least 1998.  We had a nice chat.  I pointed out to the niece that she was Clara’s age when I first met her: she had just turned 2.  I forget how many years younger than me her brother is, but it’s only a few.

It got to be 6:30 before we knew it.  They wanted us to stay, but we had a long trip home, and too much to do.

Jeffrey and I are “Facebook friends” now.  I think I bug him more than anything.

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