It was not the kind of purchase that would typically excite me.
In fact, it was not the kind of purchase I would make at all. But as I bounded away from the Kimmel Center box office, I couldn’t help beaming. In my hands were two tickets to Yanni, the celebrated Greek pianist, often dubbed a “New Age” composer, who will perform at the Academy of Music this summer.
I have never been a fan, though my dad introduced me to his music years ago, and a Yanni concert was not an event to be anticipated in my life. But when I saw that he would be bringing his North American tour to Philadelphia, I thought of my Aunt Kandi in St. Lucia. Long mesmerized by his music and television specials, she had shared with me her dream of seeing him live on several occasions. So I sent her an email when I saw that he was coming, teasingly suggesting that here, at last, was her chance.
Of course, it would be an expensive ticket, considering she’d have to cross an ocean to attend. But, to my surprise, she quickly responded that if I could get us seats, she would begin investigating flights.
Now, my aunt has not always been the most decisive of women, vacillating in everything from menu choices and clothing purchases to career moves and fresh starts that would carry her away from enervating relationships. Such tentativity, however, at least concerning life’s larger issues, has never been marked by fickleness but rather a sensitivity and consideration that tend to elevate the needs of others above her own. This impulse, while admirable in certain circumstances, has made me a steadfast champion of her freedom in recent years, urging her to a slackening selflessness if it would mean more peace of mind and joy in her life.
The youngest of my dad’s six siblings, my aunt, over the years, has somehow become the one to take on the woes and personal calamities of her brothers and sisters. In a family of charged and often acrimonious dynamics, her sweet and caring disposition has been a beacon for those unable to shake a mantle of gloom and suffering, now almost an identity inseparable from a condition that can be changed through choice and attitude.
Not all of her siblings have floundered in such negativity. But in the house where they grew up, where several still reside, life has been limping along for years, stuck in a pattern where hard and harder seem the preferred settings. Perhaps because of my physical distance, I have in my own way been able to maintain individually loving and supportive relationships with all of my aunts and uncles back in St. Lucia. But while my Aunt Kandi has endeavored to do the same, maintaining her equilibrium has been challenging, given the fractured and contentious relationships she must constantly navigate, the tightly held justifications that keep harmony at bay.
Still, she has been there for the health crises and job changes and losses, the political clashes and long-held grievances, all cast in the shadows of a fabled, once-promising past. And as she’s given, of her time and resources, her love and understandably faltering optimism, it’s been tough to find a footing on the shore of her own longings, to remember her happiness is as deserving of attention as the lives lurching around her.
So when she announced she would make the trip to Philadelphia to fulfill her dream of seeing Yanni, after having visited just last year, I was elated. To me, she was not only seizing a goal and planning a vacation, she was boldly standing up for her life, setting her sails toward joy when for too long she’d forged on with a kind of dutiful resignation, torn between being a loving sister and a woman in love with her life.
But this year, she’s decided, is going to be different. The shift she’s been courting for years is suddenly a real and thriving force, dismantling a well-practiced resistance, a tendency to delay. I could hear the change in her voice when we talked, sense it in her emails, feel it in the way she barely allowed room for the thought, so easy to attach to, that traveling thousands of miles to see a concert may have been the height of extravagant folly.
I believe this trip will be one of many things she has to look forward to in 2012. In the last few months, love, for years a cautious hope in her heart, has been ripening in a partnership once relegated to less of a priority. The possibility exists for even bigger changes, now that she’s claiming the space to allow her own life to flourish.
Eventually, that may mean stepping away from some of her siblings. Whether that entails creating actual physical distance or setting boundaries that preserve her well-being while interacting with them is up to her. Either way, she will love them still, want only the best for their lives.
But sometimes the most generous thing we can do for our struggling loved ones is to model a different way, to choose a new vision and keep company with all it demands. Our wary bystanders may protest, raise sorrowful cries, mock our choices or criticize our path. But we must push past the tug of the familiar, even if it means mending our own brokenness, to take our life in our hands. For ultimately, that is what we are tasked with shaping — and the only life we can save.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times