As business leaders, it is easy to get caught up in all the strategies and tactics of running a business. It is important to remember what really matters and I share this family reunion perspective to serve as a reminder. I have ten brothers and six sisters with our immediate family consisting of almost eighty individuals. I recently attended our first family reunion, which we decided to begin creating since the only time we seem to get together these days was for weddings and funerals.
Saturday evening was our talent show portion of the weekend. As I sat there in my beach chair in a semi-circle facing our makeshift stage, at our Carpentaria Beach campsite, I began to survey the crowd. I was listening to all the chatter amongst the audience about who was and wasn’t performing along with the consistent joke that we should have called the event a ‘talentless’ show. I felt joy and, yet, at the same time, a pang of sadness prior to the show starting.
Looking at my siblings, their children along with their children, I had a sense of life passing by quickly. I had a feeling of connectedness as well as separateness as a cool breeze touched my skin. I wondered how my mom and dad might react to all of us together celebrating family and resurrecting the talent show tradition they started many years ago. Pictures hung from one of the trees of those who are no longer with us – grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts and siblings. They were celebrating with us at this event.
As the show opened with my sister Cathy, as the masters of ceremony, the laughter and howling stirred amongst the crowd. As the crowd’s energy shifted to focus on the first act, I felt a twinge of disappointment that I didn’t get my ‘act’ together to participate with a performance. I replayed in my mind all the ideas I had that never came to fruition as Cathy came back on stage to introduce the next act. As two of my brothers were attempting to sing their co-written “My Brother, My Friend” song, I experienced a feeling of pride for my brother Tom. He had worked with my Down syndrome brother, Paul, to put this song together reflecting the relationship Paul had with all of his siblings. I clapped and whistled as they were completing the journey of the song lyrics. I stood up with an ovation for Paul and Tom as they took bows for their effort.
My husband, Steve, was sitting next to me and had contemplated singing “O’ Shenandoah” in honor of his father who passed away ten years earlier. I encouraged him to go up on stage – partly because I knew he would be great but also, admittedly, so that our family unit would be represented in the show. Cathy then came back on stage, with her third costume change, when I realized how amazingly creative and ‘living life to the fullest’ zeal she possessed. With Cathy’s encouragement, Steve stood up to sing with the crowd providing cheers of support, as they knew he was on the ‘shy side’ compared to my family. This brought me a feeling of thankfulness as they were all supporting him in his willingness to perform in front of this rowdy Gunther crowd.
I was nervous for him as he started to sing A Cappella and had to stop in order to restart in a different key. He soon found his stride and had the crowd hushed to listen to him perform with emotion and resolve. My eyes were welling up with tears as he was expressing himself through this song. My love for him was growing inside of me as he continued to perform and share this intimate side of himself to my family. I spontaneously rose to my feet and ran up to hug him as he finished his act while my family celebrated him through their clapping and shouting of goodwill. As Steve and I sat down in preparation for the next act, I grabbed his hand and squeezed it hard to express my joy and love for him.
As the evening wore on with a variety of acts, it got darker and colder as the show was coming closer to a conclusion. We all soon voted for the top performance and I felt elated when Paul and Tom won the “Gunther Oscar” for ‘My Brother, My Friend.” While discussing with all the other non-performers about performing next year, my sister Sue started a compilation of old family movies she had engineered. These movies, highlighting over fifty years of family history and memories, brought together an additional mix of emotions. I stood with my great-niece explaining who the people were on the screen since many were no longer with us or were hard to recognize at such a younger age. My sadness and yearning for those earlier times along with realizing, once again, how quickly life goes brought a new level of tears to my eyes. As the weekend continued, I further connected and socialized with my living siblings and relatives while remembering the pictures hanging on the tree and most importantly the bottom line.
Life is short – make sure you are living your life to the fullest and celebrating family and friends when you get a chance.