Today my parents' Chanukah card arrived -- it was one of those picture cards, and on the back Dad wrote, "Looking back after 40 years, we have accomplished many things. The greatest accomplishment, however, was to produce and raise 4 wonderful children, pictured here when they were still naive, innocent, and undeniably happy." The picture is my Dad's favorite of the four of us -- it is quite possibly the only picture where all of us are either laughing or genuinely smiling. It was taken during the Saturday night party of my Bar Mitzvah, 1 1/2 months after my 13th birthday.
In it I am surrounded by my three siblings, and we are all laughing and slightly damp (summertime with a pool in the backyard). This is my night, a celebration of becoming a man in Jewish tradition, in recognition that the years of after-school study have paid off. I am poised and posed, fresh from my success that morning, the big brother with a big smile for the camera. Josh is to my right -- he's only 16 months younger than I am, but the height difference suggests a bigger gap. He's not directly facing the camera, and his eyes are slightly slitted, suggesting a crafty expression -- no doubt he's thinking of the mischief he'd undertake in his teenage years. Shari is to my right, three months shy of turning 10, frozen in mid-laugh. Maybe it's her expression in particular that makes my Dad enjoy this picture so much -- I can't ever recall Shari looking as happy as she does in this picture. She possesses an unconditional mirth that disappears as we grow older and learn of the grays between the black and white. To Shari's right is Rebecca, almost seven and in a happy pose with her mouth half open and teeth plainly visible -- she knows what she's supposed to do for a camera.
Now that we live under four separate roofs, it's hard for us to share anything like we could then. My wedding day may have been the happiest day of my life, but there's a picture of Rebecca holding a Chuppah pole, a candid shot of unhappiness, jealousy I imagine, her having been with her boyfriend longer than Kathy and I had been together. I was happy for my brother, and then my sister, on the days that my nieces were born, but I wasn't there, and it didn't touch me the same way. At my folks' anniversary party last month, we were all filled with good cheer, but really there's no comparison to the happiness evident from 1981. Maybe the innocence Dad refers to is a necessary component to the happiness, especially with siblings. Almost a quarter of a century has passed since that night -- was that really our peak of collective joy?
Then again, that photo was only a moment. It suggests a togetherness that didn't exist. The four of us didn't spend the evening together -- 13-year-old Aaron would have been playing with his friends, not his 9-year-old and 6-year-old sisters. We were called together to pose, and it's quite possible we weren't in the same room at any other point of the night, much less interacting. A moment was captured, and it's possible the next time we're together, another moment will exist. We might not be standing together so that a picture can be taken, and even if we are, no photo might be taken. But all it takes is a moment.