I wake up to the sound of wheels screeching against hardwood floors. As I force my blood shot eyes open, I realize that this morning my consciousness was finding my body thrown across the couch of a dear friend. As I tried assembling the missing pieces of how I got here, I rise like the dead and see that his four year old son has extended his parade of plastic cars and trains from his bedroom to the living room. Cars are aligned as if in a parking lot, arranged by some category only he knows. Train tracks are elaborately constructed, weaving in and out, over and under through the halls.
As he sees me, he instantly drops everything he has painstakingly orchestrated with attentive detail and runs up to me with his arms outstretched as if to take flight. Calling out my name, he flies into the open skies of my arms. As I lift him up his tiny limbs find their way around my neck and he brushes his face against mine. I recall this with such detail only because of how moved I was by his selfless gesture of acknowledgement and the sheer amount of innocence found in such a small frame. It was the embrace of a child loved and devotedly attended to.
Probably awoken by the same clamor of toys and makeshift sound effects as I was; one by one my friends wake up. In spite of the sandman’s signature still evident in our baggy eyes, we are all smiling. Recollecting the events of the previous evening to the best of our ability. Laughing at the drunken antics that found us somewhere acting strange in the familiar streets of downtown, howling down the boulevards.
It’s early morning on a Sunday. And here, in this house, is our church. Our congregation revolves around a bottle of champagne and the smell of fresh meat over a fire. Mimosa’s are poured. Heads grow lighter. Hearts grow fonder.
I observe the scene with loving detail. Couples kiss and smile with glistening lips. The smell of coffee permeates the atmosphere, lined with the smoky aroma of a freshly cooked breakfast. Empty stomachs turn and speak out in hunger as empty glasses are refilled by heavy hands. The child asks his father to read for him and he does so. Story after story. Book after book the child thrusts upon him. His insatiable hunger for love and attention happily met without malice or mockery. Only loving words imparted to innocent ears.
I turn my attention to another of my friends as she stands behind her fires attending to our meal. I admire her in her selfless and unsolicited desire to feed and nurture those she cares for. No one asked her for this. No one expected it. She just did it because that’s what she does. And in that maternal gleam that found her, busy round the fire, you could tell it purchased her some sort of happiness, knowing that she was attending to those she loves.
Standing back in my corner, I record all this to store away as a precious memory. This scenery that should feel so familiar to most, is foreign to me. Surrounded by my friends, their laughter, and the comforting pressure found in that loving atmosphere I think to myself,
“So, this is what a family feels like.”
Tonight I found myself accompanying a great friend who’d invited me to visit his parent’s home. I know his family. I know them to be hardworking, loving, and some of the most genuine human beings I have ever met. I can recall when I first met them a few years ago how taken aback I was by the level of affection this family showed one and another. For me, it was almost inconceivable. I didn’t think people could act in such fashion. Always hugging and rejoicing in each others company, as if they had been separated from each other for years. To this day I am still not used to it. I can only smile as I am happily and willingly pulled into that orbit they spin around.
I walk in to that house that feels so much like a home. That is to say, it is a home where you just know that people live here. Not the sterile and unwelcoming environment that envelops so many modern homes nowadays. Uninhabited, untouched, unspoiled and preserved. No. People live here and the people that do are happy. I believe that our atmospheres as people can paint the walls we live around. This house was painted, layer after layer, with a loving commitment to the term ‘Family’.
As my friend runs into the house, I see his father faithfully attending to his guitar in one of those rare occasions where he takes the time to enjoy the comforts he has worked so hard to afford for him and his family. I watch as my friend embraces his Dad and kisses him. “My Son!”, his father exclaims. Completely overjoyed at the sight of his boy he no longer gets to see daily. My friend tells me in light of this fact, his father texts him everyday. Asking him how he is and how much he misses him. Never failing to mention he loves him. I am at a loss for any real sort of reply when he tells me this, for again coming from the life I knew, I can’t comprehend it. I can only nod. If it’s envy, if it’s just me being happy for my friend who has a father so dedicated to his son, I couldn’t tell you.
His father then turns to me, and as we form our own embrace, he says the same thing, “My Son!”
I am caught off guard, but I do my best not to show it. I only hug him back and shake his calloused hand. His father has become an object of admiration for me. He works twelve hour days, rarely taking any time for himself. When I see him, he is nothing short of the center of attention. Reigning in the affections of everyone in the room with unbridled charisma and charm. I have yet to see him without a smile. Stretching his impressive mustache from ear to ear. I never see one ounce of exhaustion that should be evident on his face from the labor he commits himself to to care for his family. As if the doorway to his home magically strips him of all the weariness the world imparts to him as he steps into that comforting and warm place.
I am greeted with a plate full of chocolate chip cookies sat right in front of me. As I begin stuffing my face his mother walks into the living room. Again; here we have a beautiful creature bound to the idea of affection and that it should be faithfully administered as much as possible. She opens her arms to me, and once again I hear, “My Son!” With a mouthful of her delicious cooking, it’s all I can say how grateful I am and how delicious her food is.
Once again, I am in the audience of a happy scene of family members laughing and regaling in their stories. Hot chocolate is brought out and all I can do is sit back, shut up and enjoy this moment. I lost count of how many cookies I ate around seven.
But these people, these strange and wonderful people, they herald me as their son and they know almost nothing about me. I am at a loss for words at the kindness this family has shown this stray over the years. But, they have made the mistake of feeding me. Now I am just going to keep coming back.
As we leave, moved beyond words at the sincerity of affections bestowed upon me, I can only tell my friend how lucky he is to have this. With genuine honesty, he answers, “I know”.
And as I drove back for the first time in my life I became genuinely thankful for the life I have had. All that I endured, all that I went without, all that I suffered and all that I never came to hold…I am now moved beyond my capacity for explanation when I experience that which I so yearn to feel. Love. Belonging. Acceptance. I can appreciate the seemingly insignificant, that which is taken so much for granted by those born into it, for it is not without significance to those not accustomed to it. I have evolved. Been given new eyes to see. Now, I can see beauty in the invisible.
It’s the first drop of water that hit’s a dying man’s parched throat.
The moment you awaken after being lost in a coma.
The desperate gasp of breath you fight to take as your head rises from the sea that sought to drown you.
That moment where you realize how badly you need all of this that you take so much for granted to continue to live.
“I am so glad I found this. I am so glad I did.”