Sometimes the ties that bind us can begin to feel like constraints. It is only when they fray that we start to value them. If we possess the wisdom to notice, and we have the chance to strengthen and tighten those bonds again, we can renew the connections that sustain us.

My cousin and her husband invited our extended family to gather at their home this past weekend. In the past, this would have been a commonplace occurrence. Before COVID, we assembled several times a year. But, as for everyone else, COVID stopped us for some time, and then inertia kept us apart for a while after that. It had been three years since the last time we had seen everyone. My own child barely remembered some of the people who have been such a big part of my life. The family members of my parents’ generation, who had always been the organizers of our time together, are getting older. They are facing some health challenges that they did not have just three years ago. So I was excited when we received the invitation from my cousin back in April. It would be wonderful to see everyone again.

Often when we greatly anticipate an event, it doesn’t quite measure up to our lofty expectations. But this day was just as meaningful as I had hoped it would be. Maybe it was because I wasn’t anticipating that something particular would happen. I was simply anticipating the people. Seeing how the children had grown. Sharing a laugh with a cousin. Giving an uncle or aunt a handshake or a hug. Those hopes were met and much more. The presence of us being together was a gift. It allowed me to perceive that our bonds were frayed only in my perception.

I was talking with one of my other cousins during the gathering, and we turned our conversation toward our grandparents, both of whom passed away a decade or more ago. We reminisced about them, remembered how they had provided an example of kindness and openness for us. The kind word, the welcoming gesture, the meal provided, the smile shared. And we recognized that those are the bonds that keep us together. Our grandparents weren’t the type of people who said, “I love you.” Maybe that was a trait of their generation. But I could feel their love from how they treated us when they were here with us.

And the special thing was, I could feel their love this past weekend, when I was with my family. I could hear my grandpa’s voice in my uncle’s, see my grandma’s smile in my aunt’s, hear their laughter in the laughter of my cousins. Their love filled that gathering, animating and tying all of us together, from my oldest uncle down to my own child, the youngest person there.

My grandparents’ love binds us all to one another. I hope to do more to honor that love in the weeks and months ahead: to maintain those family connections, to reach out with a phone call or text, to stop by for a visit, to encourage more family gatherings. I want to enjoy that love, and I want to pass it on to my own daughter.

That love, that binding, has been a support for me in my own life when times have been difficult. I hope it proves so for her as well.

Jim Schwartz is an Oak Park resident, an educator, and a blogger at

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