With the sound of ocean waves lapping against the shore below us, and the sun doing its best to poke through the clouds, we moved closer and closer together. It was hot, but not too hot, especially when you don’t mind each other’s company.
I was standing in a striped dress and a hat made of palm leaves, next to my uncle and in between two amazing women named Tracy; my brother stood behind me, holding up a small dog we’d all made the day’s mascot; my sister was sitting on the floor, in a line of cousins, three by birth, one by marriage; and my mom and dad stood in the back corner, surrounded by siblings, nieces and nephews, some requiring an –in law suffix if you wanted to get technical. Directly behind me were our gracious hosts and directly in front of me was my grandpa and my great aunt, the two who started it all.
The camera snapped three times and Leslie, a second cousin of mine, and co-owner of the beautiful house we’d gathered at that day, ran around from behind the group and stood next to the tripod we’d macgyvered out of an ice chest and an empty cardboard wine carrier.
“I’d like to make a toast without a toast,” she said.
We all remained at our posts, none of us holding a wine glass or bottle of beer to cheers, so instead we offered her our sole attention and silence, a rarity for our big group.
“I just want to say thank you,” she said, this time focusing on my grandpa and my great aunt Shatzi. “Thank you for this.” With the last word she gestured to us, everyone who stood in a united, giggly circle around them. “Because of you, we are here. Surrounded by love, made of love.” The air fell silent, heightening the sound of waves crashing below us. We all stood still, quiet, teary, humbled by the truth.
“We have this,” she said, gesturing again to the group of us, but referring not only to our collected presence, but also our shared love of each other’s company. “Not everyone has this.”
Suddenly the air was loud, powerful, as if we were all talking at once, even though no one was talking at all. Thoughts and memories ran through our minds, recalling laughs and tears, good times and bad. We thought of all the ways we were similar and all the ways we were different and how all of these things added up into a group of people that loved each other unconditionally. These words raced through the air, from ear to ear, hand to hand, and we smiled a thank you for every single one of them.
“Thank you,” Leslie said again to my grandpa and great aunt Shatzi. “Thank you for all of this.”
For a few more seconds we stood silent, basking in the love brought into the light. Some wiped tears from underneath their sunglasses, others bit down on their lips to stop them from quivering.
As we moved apart, making our way back to patio chairs or poolside pavement or kitchen bar stools, to continue conversations about the distant future or recent past, we all walked with a lighter step. We had love. We were surrounded by it, we were made of it, and with that, any problem or worry we might have walked in with suddenly seemed very small.
“Okay, NOW is it time for cake?” someone yelled from the kitchen. We’d all been told that Porto’s cheesecake and my grandma’s famous angel food cake would be our reward for taking a group picture. “Yes,” someone else said, be it an authority figure, or just a hungry someone who pretended to be. Suddenly the room was full, loud. Conversations took off in every direction, and laughter echoed off every wall. Plates were filled and then refilled and after a while we all found our way back outside, listening to the ocean waves below us and watching the sun set out in the distance.
“Thank you,” we said to the sun as it made its way behind a mountain, “and thank you,” we all said silently, both to each other, to my grandpa and aunt Shatzi, and to all the years past, present and future. Because even though we’d always known it, today it had been brought to the tip of our tongues. We are lucky. We are grateful. We are love.