February 27th, 2014
Imagine all of us around one great big family dinner table. Imagine how many weird uncles, fidgety kids, colicky babies, warring siblings, bored teenagers, nosy in-laws, overbearing parents, clueless cousins, picky eaters, and troubled relationships and lives who would all be fighting over the mashed potatoes.
Imagine how loud it would be, and how far it could be heard, if they all laughed at the same time.
As published in The Daily News, February 28, 2014, and in The Memphis News, February 29-March 7, 2014
“You’re no happier than your most unhappy child,” a wise friend said.
I remembered those words as I stared at the breadbox on the ceiling. I’ll explain. Back when we were living in the Georgian Woods with about 27¢, we didn’t buy anything we didn’t need and couldn’t justify. Nora needed a breadbox, so she used the occasion of my birthday to give me … a breadbox.
Since then, any gift that either of us gives with other than selfless intent is a breadbox. Got one for my birthday last year – a fancy little clock radio that projects a digital image of the time on the ceiling because Nora couldn’t see the former – and perfectly fine, I might add – clock radio.
3:06 AM, declared the breadbox.
The time families reflect on and are reminded of all those times on the continuum of problem to crisis, and also on the continuum of smile to pure joy.
Should we go in there or let him cry? Why haven’t I heard her cry? The first step and first fall. The first tooth and the first day of everything. The little boy and girl just there behind that twinkle in the eyes of that grown man and woman. From worrying about what to do to worrying about doing too much. From wondering who will they become to the wonder of all they’ve become. From so very frightened to so very proud. And back.
A city is like a family, sharing in the victories and in the defeats.
The glow on the Mississippi as the sun sets and the mist on the Wolf as it rises, urban forests in Overton Park and Shelby Farms and one of the nation’s most majestic canopies above it all – all ours – as are the potholes, the pension shortfall, and the loss of public trust. The promise of every commencement on every campus, every achievement on every stage is ours, as is the broken promise of every hungry child being raised by a grandmother, every woman working three jobs, every man looking for just one. Every celebration, every positive note and new move in our creative and collective song and dance are all ours – as is every needle in an East Memphis teenager’s arm, every gun in a Midtown teenager’s hand, every stare of the homeless at the underside of an overpass as I stare at the ceiling.
Life is just another word for experience and family often frames that experience, both good and bad, made more of one than the other by how the experience is shared. We can’t run from our shared problems, because that doesn’t solve them and they will overtake us.
You know the old saying; if family knocks you’ve got to let them in.
“You, too?” said the voice next to me in bed. “Yeah,” I said, as I put my hand over hers and, together, we got through the night.
I’m a Memphian, and we are blood kin.