The baskets of chips move up and down the table while both the salsa and the margaritas flow easily. There are enough people gathered that multiple conversations are happening simultaneously, with questions and laughter and excited stories being told.
Over tamales and enchiladas we learn more about each other, get caught up on our lives, and remember why we’re lucky enough to be here.
An hour earlier we had said our final goodbye to our mother, mother-in-law, grandmother. It was a modestly simple service in a sleepy town deep in the Ozarks. Time, distance and advancing Alzheimer’s had whittled those attending to just a precious few.
The homey service focused on her grittiness, her humor and her deep devotion to her family. The closing remarks were to her adult children, challenging them to keep her memory strong. The torch was passed, they are now the tellers of the tales and the keepers of the stories.
So here we sit, passing the chips, sharing stories, taking in the too-little time when we are all together in one place at one time.
It’s funny, really, how we spend so many of our years striving to make our lives bigger, brighter, “more important”. How so many of us measure successful lives through stocks and bonds, toys in the driveway, social connections.
Yet in this equally tacky and tasty Mexican restaurant in the middle of Missouri, it is clear that those are not things that equate a life well lived.
What matters most, perhaps, are those who are left sitting, laughing, crying, and passing the chips. The people that remain when all the rest have gone home, the ones who are telling those tales that keep memories alive.
I sit back for a moment, taking a long sip of my frozen margarita, and imagine who will be passing the chips when I’m gone. Instantly, all of life comes into crystal clear focus. It’s one of those precious moments in life when everything syncs up and you know exactly how things are meant to be.
I reach for the salsa and know with complete certainty that life should be focused on the ones who will remain. I look up and down the table and imagine my own children laughing, interrupting each other eagerly to add to a story, which likely has become greatly embellished with age. I think of the bonds they have, how it will remain when I’m no longer there to braid them together.
How easy it is to make time for obligations and commitments while simultaneously taking time with our closest people for granted. There is a sense that so much else in life is fleeting, “grab it while you can”, but family can wait because family will always be there.
Breaking my own “no phone at the table” rule, I slide my hand into my bag, pull out my cell, and send a family text. “Dinner…next Sunday, who’s in?” The phone begins pinging with available times and excited suggestions of where to meet. I smile quietly, knowing that I’ll see them all soon, and we, too, will sit around a long table and speak over each other and laugh and tell stories. I take a deep breath, overwhelmed a bit with how quickly it all goes.
This I know: I want to pass the chips with my favorite people as often and for as long as I can.
I take a bite of the cheese enchilada and re-engage with the stories, just so grateful for it all.