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a toast to life and to love

a toast to life and to love: a post by Andrea Hurley

by Andrea
February 23, 2014

Every year on my mother’s birthday an ever growing family comes together to celebrate. Rarely does anyone miss this event, especially as my mother has become elderly. This celebration becomes more poignant every year, both because of the significance of a life on this planet for almost 100 years, and also because of an undercurrent of tension in all of our hearts, a question that goes unspoken: will this be the last? 

As I write these unspoken words, part of me wants to hit the back key, and erase that question from this post. As if erasing it can alter the future. Or as if writing it will trigger some unfortunate event that I will then have to live with the rest of my life. So many superstitions lie just under the surface of our cultural mindset. And facing the fear of the end of life can easily trigger any one of them. And yet, one of the reasons why Judy and I started "When the Table Turns" was to go towards some of those fears, and to dare to look beyond them. And in doing so, I am always surprised by the richness of what I find there, amazed by what appears to be a constant source of something new, of new ways of seeing and understanding. I find a refuge from the grip of fear and an awareness of not being alone, or perhaps of being alone in a way that is never separate from everything and everyone else. It is a place where gratitude takes over as the deeper current of life, setting love free. 

Newest great granddaughter Claire (3 months) with her great Grandmother (96)The next morning after my mother’s recent 96th birthday celebration, I woke up with a feeling of deep happiness. Before millions of thoughts rushed in to vie for my attention, there was this beautiful, still presence. I stayed with this, reflecting on the events of the day before, and knew that we as a family reached a new level of celebrating my mother's life. It was a celebration with all the elements of a good party—great food, plenty of wine and beer, not-too-many-but-just-enough presents, birthday cake with lots of candles for the little ones to blow out with my mother. Lots of laughter and pockets of animated conversation. There were about 40 of us ranging in age from 3 months to 96 years old all intimately squeezed into my apartment. Everyone was engaged and happy. But there was one extended moment in particular that I feel was the probable source of this deep morning happiness. And that was the look on my mothers face when we all came together for a toast. Several of us reached into our hearts and gave voice to our appreciation for her life. There was a love and gratitude expressed for this mother of 9, grandmother of 15, great grandmother of 5—whose simple and hardworking life, as imperfect as the rest of ours, was acknowledged. Through spoken word or respectful listening, everyone contributed to this moment, and with striking receptivity, my mother allowed it all to flow seamlessly into her heart. 

As I looked at the photos the next day I was struck to see how that look of receptivity was captured. A love held in silence through the power of a toast: a toast to a mother, a grandmother, a great grandmother, a friend. A toast to 96 years on this planet. A toast to the 40+ lives who would not be here together without her. A toast to life and to love. 

My mother with one of my brothers listening to a toast: in celebration of her 96th birthday

after the toasts

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