Birthday dinner table, empty and full, Berkeley, CA
At table, and in relation to the birthday girl, clockwise from bottom: grandfather; grandmother’s partner (grandbaba); adult friend/ fellow co-housing “villager”; special aunt; younger special cousin; co-housing “villager” girl cousin; grandmother; mother; co-housing “villager” uncle & aunt with boy cousin in between; special uncle. Baba behind the camera, per usual.
Not at table: birthday girl (in another room, having a post-prandial read); her younger brother (up to no good somewheres off camera); her elder special cousin (off on a bike trip for her high school); her East coast-dwelling Aunt; her Midwest-dwelling grandpa; her nearby yet far away Aunt, Uncle, & cousin; and, both furthest away and ineffably present, the grandmother, whom she never met but experiences in me daily, and her oldest cousin, whom she knew just for six months but whose shadow and light falls on nearly everything her parents see.
These last two–oldest grandmother, oldest cousin–are now in the ether and understanding everything, or so I always imagine: the work it takes for us to continue to be present; the love (or pain, or both) of those absent; the costs and rewards and complexity of it all.
When we sang Happy Birthday to her (now seven), we filled the room with song, and impressed even ourselves by the strength of our voices. In those moments, in spite of the fact that absence and change were cheek by jowl with us at the table (death; estrangement; divorce), the overriding presence was the undeniable, enduring fullness of love. I can think of no finer gift for my daughter. To understand that we sit together with loss, and yet love abides.