In Context: considered together with the surrounding words or circumstances.
I dreamt of my Pepere last night. Not as I remember him, but younger, with dark brown hair and smiling eyes. He was in our home and asked to see our photo albums, as I quickly tucked stuffed animals and strewn socks under my arms and gathered orange peels from the dining table into the palm of my hand, a frantic effort to clean for the surprise visit.
Somehow, I had many photographs of my mother and her siblings, of my Memere and Pepere together, though they weren’t in my lifetime. He turned page after page. He laughed and sighed.
That was all. It wasn’t all that much of a dream: an unannounced visit and him sitting on my couch with a photo album in his lap. Show me the memories, were the only words I clearly heard him, or anyone, say.
I’m watching a French movie while editing pictures. It’s subtitled, though, and so, impossible to follow as my eyes move from one screen to the next. It’s all a soft hum and flutter of sounds, the cadence of a conversation happening through a wall, muted, unintelligible, and I only realize that I’m not actually following the story line when I turn back to the screen and they’re out on a boat in the ocean, and not sitting at a cafe smoking cigarettes and pouring wine, where I thought I’d just left them.
At thirty-eight, mid-motherhood, mid-adulting, I am the foreign film in the background of my own busy life. I hear the muffled conversations of my heart, the sounds of my soul stirring, but if I’m not paying close attention, it, I, become only white noise.
Until I finally turn back to look at what’s happening and realize, I’m out in a boat, wondering which way is back to land.
Do I even want to know how far I’ve gone adrift, from myself?
I see myself in my children. I see myself with my children. I see myself in my marriage. I see myself with my husband. But, do I see myself without qualifiers? Without always needing to put someone else in the frame to give me context? Does this matter?
Or is part of my evolution, understanding that, although I’m always uniquely and innately myself, I cannot be less than who I am in context to my community? The more I let myself become white noise, the more I give into letting go of the need to be so certain and so strongly, me, the more I am able to embrace that who I am is always evolving into within the context of those that I love and our community.
This month started with a weekend of family, of belated holiday celebrations, including a gathering of my Memere & Pepere’s side of the family. We ate familiar foods, pork pies and crock pots of chowders and chili. We said hellos all around, and, after laughing through a Yankee Swap, we settled into tables for games or coffee and conversation.
We took a somewhat impromptu and crazy attempt at a family picture, the first we’d done in years.
As I uploaded the images later that night, I thought about what a strange and wonderful thing it is, having this web of family, informing who I am, where I’m from. To have people we see, maybe less than a handful of times in a year, who are some of our strongest support system. To have Facebook memories pop up every few weeks with my Memere’s encouraging comments below a status or picture, blessing us with her memory. To have dream-Pepere settle into my couch and remind me of the potent magic of memories and photographs and family.
These are the faces of cousins who will come and help rewire a basement, who will build a deck, or come fix our van in the parking lot behind our house. These are my aunts and uncles who encourage and affirm me, who appreciate whatever I have to offer, and who love my husband just as warmly.
Who I am, is rooted here.
It’s mid-morning and my children are doing school, when we hear the footsteps of Rowan coming up the stairs. Evie tells her not yet. And the day of kids asking to either go down or be up, to be together, has begun.
A typical day here in this makeshift community we’ve built in this two-family home, will consist of so many footsteps up and down the stairs and hours of mischief and misunderstandings, of feelings (perhaps) getting bruised, but hugs and laughter before all is said and done.
For the adult friends here, too, it’s sometimes similar. It’s familial. It’s a friendship-turned-family community in which I know I say far more bluntly the things that I would normally only say to those who can’t deny that I’m their relation. Often, they’re things that need to be talked about the next day, without drinks, and instead with an earnestness to want to understand one another better – as individuals, as friends, as who we are in context.
But, that’s where it gets good. Rather than having hurt feelings and the freedom to say, well, you go do you, then. We’re, for better more than worse, in a community that says, I love you, so let’s do better.
Who I am, is rooted here.
And it’s rooted in the friendships I’ve had for decades. The ones who I grew up with, the ones who knew me before Vinnie, the ones who were the context of my twenties, the fumbling years of grad school and pregnancies and financial struggles and not fully understanding anything, but barreling forward anyhow, because…life.
I want for who I am to be informed and molded by the people I’ve touched and those who have touched me, by the family I’ve grown-up with and by the close friendships I’ve formed. Without this context, I could be the kindest, the smartest, the wittiest, or most self-assured…but I’d be an island.
And someday, a long, long time from now, when I visit my grandchildren in their dreams, I would like to think that I will want to see the photographs. I will want to see the lives I’ve lived, with the people I’ve loved and who shaped me as I helped shape them.
I will want the memories, not a mirror to see only me.
I will want context of me and you and a thousand photographs to light my heart and guide me home.