Yesterday, I attended a funeral.
In some ways it was the smallest of affairs. Before she passed, my aunt had requested a graveside service, witnessed only by family. I had come to be such a witness, partially to say goodbye and partially to support my cousins, their wives, and the vast brood of grandchildren that had been my aunt’s primary reason for existence after my uncle’s passing. It’s difficult to express in words how much love I felt toward all of these people of various ages, as we mixed her ashes with my uncle’s. It’s harder still to explain why I feel such love.
All of my mother’s side of the family still lives in the city where she and my aunt grew up. Many of them have ventured forth into the world at one time or another, but my mom was the single family member that decided the call of the (mildly) foreign was enough to heed permanently. My parents moved to California when I was but four, and because of this I am something of the sole outsider on my mom’s side of the family. My sister is five years my senior and because of this enjoys strong, formative memories of these people, memories I both lack and envy. My interactions with all of them have been sporadic, spread out over decades that are otherwise packed with an infinite number of bright, shiny objects; these days our interactions are relegated almost exclusively to funerals and weddings. In many ways, they are amongst the people in my life I know the least.
And yet despite all of this, my love for them towers above the day-to-day minutia of my everyday life. It is real and tangible, as solid and as unbending as the cottonwoods that pepper the city everyone in my family but me thinks of as “home.” I would do anything for any of them, without hesitation, and I know in my heart they would do the same for me — not out of familial obligation, but out of our actual love for one another. And all of this begs the question:
Just what the hell is love, anyway?
As most of you know, today marks the beginning of our latest symposium, which is on the topic Love. Like all of our other symposiums, we ask writers to go wherever the topic leads them, regardless of how off the obvious path those thoughts take them.
A quick confession: When the other contributors and editors pushed for a symposium on the subject of Love, which would start on Valentines Day, I kind of wanted to barf. At the time it just felt too clichéd, the chances of slipping into the hackneyed-land too great. Fine, I finally conceded with whatever the Valentine’s Day version of Grinch-itude might be, but only if at least one person writes something about how much love can suck.
Oh, me of little faith.
As the submissions started coming in, I realized that my OT tribe was right and I was wrong. And when I sat in the airport late last night, awaiting my connecting flight and pondering the mystery of my unbending love for the people with whom I had just mourned, I realized that concepts like love are so ubiquitous not because they are clichéd, but rather because they are paradoxically ineffable and the only thing we truly understand in our time here amongst the living.
As always, the symposium will continue “as long as it does,” and if you wish to submit a piece during the middle of it you are most welcome to do so.