For more than a year-and-a-half I have been able to spend only limited time with my son and husband as jobs and the economy keep us in different time zones. Sustaining family life has been a challenge. But for three blissful weeks around Christmas we were all together. Like all family gatherings ours was bound to have some tension. We expected it. We planned for it. But we did not anticipate how much our most recent separation (4 months) would impact this readjustment. In the midst of the holiday busy-ness we realized that we had a lot of work to do to reestablish patterns, rituals, and rhythms which had been altered by time and space. Each of us had to recalibrate; we had to reorganize our sense of who “fit” where and who had what role to play in a given situation/moment/scenario. It was hard. My husband and I struggled at times to cede space to the other in family decision and we struggled at times to let go of roles that we had taken on out of necessity.
Anyone who has experienced some sort of separation or loss might appreciate what I describe here. I am not alone. So many people I know have had to revisit roles and rules and identities in the face of life’s twists and turns and challenges. When someone moves out of your life you work to fill the void or question the new order. My friends who have lost spouses or parents to divorce or war understand this. My friends who right now are suffering with the knowledge that their child has a terminal illness know this. My friends who embark on a new career or have a new baby know this – even in adding to a family, some aspects of one’s former life is lost. In all of these cases people work to plug the holes and remake their families because loss or gain changes so much.
This week’s readings speak loudly to people like me and so many others: people separated or recombined by need, desire or circumstance. In the first reading and the Gospel we have one of the most perfect bookended pairings in the liturgical year. From a prophetic pronouncement of the Lord’s day to Jesus’ pronouncement of his fulfillment of the prophets we are witness in these readings to the idea that God is among us. That Christ lives with and in and through us. And in witnessing this presence we are reminded of the humanity of Jesus and of the fact that it is in and through each of us that God’s love and gifts are shared.
In this light we turn to the second reading—one of the most powerful in the gospels—in which we are reminded forcefully of the ways in which each of us—as that which is “the church”—is a needed, necessary and critical part of the body of Christ. This imagery never fails to move me. I imagine a lost finger, a missing arm. I recall the absences felt deeply in my childhood – of the loss of a parent, grandparents and friends. And…this week I think of the loss of “how it was” and I question my place in my own small family given my distance in recent months. Am I needed? Do I matter? Separation often highlights this: an empty chair, an empty room, a silence, a missing partner.
The reading from I Corinthians reminds me of what I know deep down (and why loss is so hard). It reminds me of the synergy and symbiosis of the thing I call “family”. It reminds me that each of us is a critical, needed and necessary part of not only the church, but of our families as well. While I have been lamenting the challenge of reestablishing roles and refilling those silences in my own life this reading reminds me that I might be better served noticing the unique roles that I, my husband and my son play in making our family “our family”. With this frame our challenges might be rewritten as reminders of the gifts we each bring, gifts that cannot be replicated or replaced no matter what happens.
I pray this week for those who have suffered loss and who know full well how important each individual is in a family or a life and I pray fervently that those of us lucky enough to reconnect with loved ones will heed the reminder of this first reading.
Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello is seeking inner peace and strength as she embarks on yet another move – this time to the University of Luxembourg where she will be teaching as a Fulbright fellow this spring. Luckily the Grand Dutchy of Luxembourg is only 3 hours from her husband and son.