There are moments in life that defy words.
This is one of them.
And yet, I've got a few things to say.
This picture was taken just moments before our youngest daughter's marriage. She had just put on her wedding gown. She was so absolutely radiantly beautiful, she took my breath away.
It was a moment when two equally powerful moments were suspended in the room - one known, one unknown.
The known was all too well known: The past. Everything that had brought us to this moment.
As I looked at her, hundreds of images cascaded before my eyes: The moment she was born. The first time I held her. The morning we brought her home.
She was born three weeks before her due date. It was Mother's Day, which was amazingly poignant. Five years earlier, Ms. Conroy and I had both lost custody of our children in the first open lesbian custody case in Bristol County, Massachusetts. It was devastating. Simply, absolutely, devastating.
We had endured five long, difficult years of every-other weekend visits with our children. Those years taught us a few important lessons, the most important of which is that family is most important to us.
Being parents. Being mothers.
So, we decided to do everything we could to expand our family. We took in foster care children. We decided to adopt a multiply handicapped child. And, we decided to have a child of our own.
No child was more planned for, wanted and anticipated than this child.
Later that summer, when the older children announced that they wanted to live with us and not with their father, we went back to court and their father miraculously agreed to joint custody, which the court even more miraculously granted.
We settled into the happy chaos of becoming a "blended family". Eleven kids in an eleven room house with three wood burning stoves that had to be fed every two hours in the winter months. Luckily, we had enough little hands to feed it during the day, and big hands to feed it in the middle of the night.
Our youngest didn't walk until she was almost 18 months old. She didn't have to. All she ever had to do was lift her arms and someone came by to happily carry her around. She did, however, start talking at the age of five and a half months and speaking in full sentences by the time she was nine months old.
I remembered her first day at day care, nursery school, kindergarten, elementary school, and junior high. She went off to college at age sixteen, got her associate's degree instead of a high school diploma, two bachelor's degrees, a master's degree and an international certificate as a Montessori teacher.
The images of each of these milestones fell before my eyes like a collage on the theme of life. It circled invisibly and yet very clearly in the room.
The other moment was the future: Unknown and yet filled with hope. A husband - a good, kind, decent man - who knows her and adores her. A new family of in-laws who have welcomed her into their family with warm, loving, open arms.
A good career with a promising future. Children, perhaps, but not right away. A tiny walk up apartment with a kitchen you can't turn around in and a bedroom that's so small it barely fits a bed and bureau with enough room to get into the Very Small closet. But, it's their palace - their Very Own Home - one they can't imagine leaving much less living any place else.
In the middle of those two moments - the past and the future - came this moment. A moment which was filled with the past and the future and the right now.
I look at it and think of the wedding toast in "The Fiddler on the Roof".
Life has a way of confusing usThis moment was everything we had hoped and longed for. Risked and dared for and dreamed about. And a few things so wonderful, so beyond our knowing, that we couldn't have asked for or imagined them.
Blessing and bruising us
Drink, l'chaim, to life
God would like us to be joyful
Even when our hearts lie panting on the floor
How much more can we be joyful
When there's really something
To be joyful for?
To us and our good fortune
Be happy be healthy, long life!
And if our good fortune never comes
Here's to whatever comes,
Drink l'chaim, to life!
I don't know how he did it, but the photographer captured all of that - the sweet and the bitter, the lost and the found, the expected and the unimagined - along with the images of our youngest daughter and me on film.
It is, for me, a cultural icon of a eucharistic moment of great thanksgiving when hearts were broken open by thousands of moments of sadness and joy, risks and dreams, failure and success so that we might be open to new life. New hope. New dreams.
It's a way for me to pray to the Divine in thanksgiving and deep gratitude for all the many, many blessings of this life - but especially, this one.
I am so grateful, all I can say is, "L'chaim!"
And, thanks be to God from whom all blessings flow.