This afternoon mom and I looked through her old photo albums. She has about twenty large three ring binder style photo albums in her room. When we decided what items to move with her to assisted living, my brother and I knew that the photo albums were a “must.” She worked hard over the years to create the albums, and looking through them always gives her joy.
Today she turned the pages carefully as she always does. She took her time and went picture by picture, commenting on the friends and family captured on film. Only today… I noticed a change. Several times, Mom got the names of those in the photo album wrong. I am patient enough most days to know not to argue with her when she has forgotten something. I may suggest a correction, but more often than not, I just roll with it.
First, she saw a photo of my aunt during the 1970s and she thought it was my cousin. This made me sad but not too much. It was sweet that she saw a family resemblance and made a connection even though she got the name wrong. It happened several times, confusing generations but still realizing which branch of the family tree she was looking at.
Then there was a series of photos from a party my parents had attended when they lived in Augusta, Georgia in the early 1970s. The people in the photo were friends of my dad’s from dental school (the series of photos comes just before his graduation photos.) These people are strangers to me. I’ve seen the photos many times, but I don’t think I ever even met these people (well, after age 3.) Yet… mom insisted that one of the photos was my aunt. For some reason, her inability to recognize that this was not a family member, that this was a stranger or someone she had known only briefly about 45 years ago, really bothered me. I found myself pushing back, insisting, almost arguing. I wonder why?
When I realized that I was upset, I paused, took a deep breath and talked to God.
“She doesn’t know a stranger from a close relative!” I cried out.
“So…?” God answered.
“So, there’s a big difference!” I argued.
“Is there?” God replied.
Sigh. It’s true that mom had her facts wrong. The woman in the photo is not my aunt. But whoever she is, the woman in the photo is someone special. She’s part of the human family tree, even if she’s not part of the Grimes or Walker family tree. I see a stranger; mom sees family.
I thought of Jesus in a stressful situation, surrounded by a crowd, asking them, “Who is my mother? Who is my brother?” Family is such a gift, but Jesus reminds us that all our neighbors are gifted and valuable also.
So… pretty soon we put the photo album away. I looked over at the staff person having a rough day with a challenging resident, and I tried to think of her as family. It was easy! I looked at mom’s neighbor sleeping in the recliner and thought of her as family. No problem. Then, later today, in the aisles of the grocery store… I saw strangers and prayed for them as though they were family. Making small talk with the cashier, I recognized her as family. Human family, brothers and sisters. No barriers, nothing to separate us into categories where some are more important than others.
I guess mom was right. The woman in that old 1970’s photo is family too. Someday I’ll learn not to argue with mom!