As time tick-tick-ticks away, roles are reversed when the aiga assemble in joy or in grief.
Weddings and funerals: markers of love, of family reunion. Both are celebrations of life — one of shared lives yet to be lived, the other a shared remembrance of a life well lived.
They are the things that gather us all together, in joy and grief, for better and for worse. They are where we learn which of our relatives are master orators, the easy weavers of stories; which are the stand-up comedians, making us laugh through the tears, happy or sad; which of us enjoy leading, and which of us prefer to follow; which are the life of the party and which prefer to quietly observe; which are the stoic and which are the criers, and how much it can break and surprise you when the stoic become the criers.
They are a measure of closeness and a reminder of time, tick-tick-ticking away. It was not so long ago you were the kid your aunty proclaimed had grown so much every time she saw you, and now you are that aunty, fussing at your nephews and nieces as they scrunch up their faces, some of whom now tower over you. There were those aunties and uncles who would pester you about marriage, at times when the idea seemed like an impossibility, at times when you felt altogether too young. They were the ones who had the best time, you remember; they danced all night and drank the bar dry.
As a kid, you remember so vividly an uncle’s act of kindness, and you recall that story with your family many times over the years. As an adult, it becomes one of the many stories of his memoriam, to illustrate what kind of man he was, what he meant to everyone, how much he will be missed. You wonder if people ever really know what they mean to you. The only time they’d get to hear something like that would have been at their wedding. But not everyone gets married.
They can also be markers of disconnect, too, these gatherings. Of families expanding and faces becoming unfamiliar, of lives lived apart for too long, of lives intersecting only when there is a wedding or a funeral. The ceremony and the culture, of knowledge passed down — or not. Of laughter not understood because of a language not yet learned, and another reminder that the keepers of that language won’t be around forever. And wouldn’t you like to understand those great stories being told at the next family function? Just another reminder of time, tick-tick-ticking away.
You are older than the age your parents had you. Which makes you... old now? You realise that pretty much all your cousins are married now. Which means most of the weddings are done now. And you come to understand why your aunties and uncles had a habit of pestering you about when you were going to get married. Not because of religion, or virtue, or any great belief in marriage or interest in your relationship, but because it would be a cause for celebration.
Soon, you will be doing your own pestering.
This piece originally appeared in the January-February 2020 issue of Metro magazine, with the headline 'Family gatherings'.