We're a couple who likes to buck convention.
On the evening before our wedding last August, the night that most soon-to-be brides and grooms traditionally spend with their wedding party and close family at a rehearsal dinner, my sweetheart, Patrick, and I decided to do something a little different.
In lieu of that traditional rehearsal dinner, we – along with some of our beloved aunts, cousins, and parents – planned two separate family reunions.
Because… out of around 100 invites sent out in the months before our wedding, nearly 75 of them were to members of our family, spread out among more than 7 states and spanning from San Diego to New York City. We wanted to welcome them, celebrate them, and spend an evening soaking in each others' presence.
On one end of town, Patrick's family filled up a room at a local Irish pub (they are, as the name Patrick McCarthy would suggest, quite Irish). On the other end of town, in a tiny room in the back of a local seafood restaurant, my family gathered together.
It might seem odd, spending the evening before our wedding at two different parties.
But the truth is that these reunions – the gathering of loved ones from all over the country – turned out to be one of the most beautiful and moving parts of the weekend (and believe me when I say that our wedding was so beautiful that I still well up at the thought of it, nearly a year and a half later).
For us, family is everything. And, while I can't speak for the McCarthy Reunion (I heard it was a blast!), I can say this: in that little room in the corner, my family showed up.
For me, and for us.
You see, unbeknownst to me, at different points during the dinner, my family had planned a set of surprise presentations.
First up, my mom and brother. They began with a photo montage (set to music, no less!) that walked us through the last four history-making generations of our family. There were laughter and tears and the kind of laughter that made you cry from the joy of it all.
A little while later, my oldest cousin, G - just a year older than me - stood and cleared her throat.
She announced that she, along with several of my other first cousins (there are 13 of us, altogether), had prepared some words. Together, they spoke of support and deep respect and the kind of love that broke my heart right open. They shared words that, until that point, we had never uttered to one another. It was the first time that (almost) all of us were meeting as adults, connecting with grown-up and steadied appreciation for one another. It was new and so beautiful.
Finally, my aunt stood.
A writer, editor, and publisher herself, she shared that, while the adults hadn't planned anything, they were moved to speak, as it was clear that the cousins had put them to shame.
She spoke about my grandmother who, less than a year prior to that night, had passed away, and about my great-aunt who had recently joined her. You could hear her voice tremble as the room fell quiet.
You see, my family is, for all intents and purposes, a matriarchy. The women, strong and stable and wise, hold us together. The men, raised by such women, are kind and true and grounded.
She shared about how, on that night – the night before my wedding, it was the first time that we had all been together since the matriarchal torch had been passed. She spoke about the loss, the grandma-shaped hole that was missing from that night. We sat for a moment, caught in the grief of it all.
And then she spoke of our shared joy. She talked about watching each of us and our deep admiration and connection and spirit. She spoke about Patrick and I and our steadfast love for one another.
I'll never forget what she said next.
"You see, this is how we know. This is how we know that we can hold two seemingly opposite emotions at once and that they can both be true. We can grieve and mourn and feel the loss of our loved ones and, all at once, be moved by the celebration of the present moment. Grief and joy are not opposed. They can both be held in an instant."
She raised her glass and toasted us.
I've been thinking about this moment quite a bit over the past week.
And I came to a conclusion.
We, as humans, are entirely miraculous beings.
We can hold so much. Grief and anger and joy and hope, and all at once. Heartbreaking pain and worry and love and solid certainty, all in a single moment. Passionate action and deep knowing, held simultaneously in one human being.
We hold so many seemingly opposing emotions and experiences, and yet we don't crumble under the weight of it all. Miraculous, wouldn't you say?
I say all of this to remind you: you are a miracle. Strong and soft, anxious and certain, courageous and vulnerable, whole and wonderful, all at the same moment. Miraculous and magical and fragile and deeply, deeply powerful.
If, like so many of us in the U.S. and abroad, this week has left you wearied and worried…
If you find that you can't sleep or that you can't seem to drink enough coffee to make a difference…
If you've got a pit in your stomach and a weight on your shoulders...
... know that that's what comes from holding so, so much.
We're being called to hold more than usual. To feel more deeply and with more urgency than we ever have before. To sit in the depths, in spite of the discomfort, and continue to love and feel and hold each other. To recognize that joy and grief can exist in the very same moment.
Because they do.