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There is a terrific pile-up of birthdays in our family this time of year: Leila, Talara, John, Nate, Sam, Gretta, all in about a week. Which, if you do the math and know anything about how babies are made … Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

It’s kind of cool, actually, that we come back around to family celebrations in September as a result of all of that holiday revelry.

I say it all the time, but life is pretty funny.

Not if you pay any attention to what’s happening around the world or anything like that, but life in this little microcosm of humanity is fairly entertaining.

Which is good, we kind of need it to be because there’s always someone sick, always someone dying, always some fresh change we need to adapt to. It’s a good thing to find balance in the scales of this very weird life.

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Sam came home for his birthday. Flew clear across the country to be with us when he turned 24. We had a great dinner with his dad’s family and that included his dad’s wife and kids, his dad’s parents, brother and his wife and their daughter and her lovely partner; my parents, my daughter from my second marriage and my lovely partner. The kids swam in the pond and the grown-ups stood around and talked. The food was great; Coco made a perfect angel food cake, as per Sam’s request and Sam’s dad, Scott, made a really nice toast, invoking the day he was born and how beautiful and scary (he had jaundice and needed to be cooked a little longer) it was. It was a truly perfect autumn evening and we all knew it. We all knew, with the elders becoming more elder, with the changes looming in our lives, with the colder, darker days ahead, that we needed to treasure exactly what we had in those moments. Precisely what we have in the gift of one another.

The day’s light gave way to a spectacular starry night and we eventually, reluctantly, all wandered back to our places of rest: Mark in his fabulous old Buick, several of us in our practical Vermont rigs and, early the next morning, Sam on a jet plane, heading west.

He had come home not just to celebrate his birthday, but also to say good-bye to Nanny and Pa’s—my parents’—house. It would be his last time there and I knew that was going to be hard. I watched as he walked the rooms on Sunday night, recalling various memories there, from when he was very little up through high school. “This was always my safe place,” he said.

“Me too,” I told him, soldiers in solidarity on the train of sorrow that runs through our lives. Nanny and Pa’s home was where we both went whenever life became difficult. Sam figured it out, though, waiting in an airport the next day. He figured out that his memories are about who his grandparents are and how they always took good care of him, showered their love on him, fed him, gave him space to be alone.

The buildings we live in are important, for sure. But it’s the people who share them with us, the people who spread their warmth in those spaces that matter more than the sheetrock, the countertops, the carpeting. We attach memories to a place, but truly it’s the people we love there and the experiences we have had with them that rest in our souls as we travel this hard life, softening the rough edges, making life bearable and fun.

It is treasure, bittersweet, to watch those people grow up, grow older, move to new places, reposition themselves in this wide world. I think that as long as we keep shoring ourselves up with nights like the one we had on Sunday, with a mash-up of people, willing to move on from old hurts and connected by strands of tenacious love, then we will be OK.

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