I’m no mathematician. In fact, I consider it a great accomplishment if I find it possible to balance the checkbook without gnashing of teeth and help from my mathematically-inclined husband. But I do believe in this: it is possible for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. Earlier this month, a talented and gracious woman named Susie Stover died. I had the good fortune to call her my aunt, and she was the mother of four of my favorite people in this world. As a child, I thought that all people had extended families like ours – aunts and uncles and cousins who genuinely loved one another and enjoyed spending time together. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized the value and rarity of this special and loving group of people. Aunt Susie had a beautiful alto voice. I like to sing, but I happen to sing exactly like those singing around me – if they sing well, I sound pretty good, too, and if they’re awful, I’m right there with them. I loved to sing next to her, even if it was just an informal family rendition of “Happy Birthday.” With her lovely alto, she could turn any song into a blend of harmony that better helped me understand the capacity of music to transcend the ordinary, far more than years of piano lessons and band practice. She made it possible for me to participate so that it felt like my voice belonged. And of course, this conglomeration of memories is actually a musical metaphor. My aunt had the grace and graciousness of encouraging others to find their unique voices simply by being present and attentive in her effortless, unforced way. She had a gift for making others feel like they belonged, and it never felt strained. She was the ultimate hostess, regardless of the formality of the event. The time spent with my cousins, siblings, parents, aunts, and uncles in the past weeks has reminded me that in being together, through the hugs and tears and laughter we’ve shared, that family is greater than the sum of its parts, and I am grateful and honored to share a seat at the table and to add my voice to the din.
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