It was the last full day of our one month visit to Shanghai. We had previously planned on a quiet day at my in-laws’ place, followed by a brief visit to my husband’s grandmother’s house. However, this day also happened to be the same day as the Dragon Boat Festival. It was decided that a simple visit would not suffice. Instead, we would attend a family dinner at a restaurant. In complete honesty, the sound of another large family dinner made me let out a disgruntled sigh. There is no question: the food was some of the best I had ever tasted. Zhenyang’s family was also completely welcoming to me. Unfortunately, I was utterly exhausted. An introvert, I am not very fond of large, boisterous gatherings to begin with. The addition of a language I can’t speak and customs I am not familiar with made the family dinners even more taxing.
I sat at the table and plastered on my best smile. I took a look around the table. Everyone seemed to be laughing, passing around rice wine, and having a good time. However, I saw in the corner of my eye that the main person we were gathered to see-Zhenyang’s grandmother- was not joining the conversation. At first, I was not surprised. The recent death of her husband had caused her great suffering. According to Zhenyang, she used to be a rotund, animated woman. She now looked quite small, with an air of loneliness around her despite always being surrounded by family. This time, however, sadness was not the prevailing emotion I read from her. Instead, her eyes were glimmering. She was looking at Alan, who was sitting on my lap in a sleepy daze.
looked over at my husband and asked if he wanted to go over and talk with his grandmother. We made our way over to her side of the table. The expression in her eyes was one I struggle to describe in words. There appeared to be a mixture of reminiscence and happiness, as well as hope for the future generation. “My grandmother is 94 years old and she gives her blessings to Alan,” Zhenyang translated.
The moment was profoundly beautiful, and its significance transcended all cultural and language barriers. However, there was also a sense of grief. Being thousands of miles away from older family members who are not in the best health makes one not want to take a moment for granted. My husband was not certain if this would be the last moment he would spend with his grandmother. I asked Zhenyang if his grandmother wanted to hold Alan. Joy radiated from her entire being. Despite my tendency to want to avoid these types of gatherings. I would not take back these precious moments for one second.
It has not escaped my attention that my own grandmother, who lives in Texas, has not yet met Alan. Much of my family is geographically dispersed, making reunions challenging. My mother recently told me that her mother really wanted to Facetime Alan. At first, I was a tad surprised. My grandmother does not own a smart phone. She prefers to use her cell phone only for calling people when she is away from home. She does not text, finding that it is not a very intimate medium of conversation. It was decided that I would Facetime during Father’s Day, when my aunt would be at the house to intercept the call.
My own grandmother looked small in the phone, but this was likely due to the screen of my iPhone 5c. “Look at those eyes,” my grandmother remarked. “He is so beautiful. “ Alan looked puzzled at the screen. He doesn’t quite understand Facetime yet. It wasn’t long before Alan started crying: we happened to be calling during his fussy hour. However, similar expressions of happiness and nostalgia were in my grandmother’s eyes. There was an unmistakable bit of awe emanating from my grandmother at the ability to see her great-grandson from so many miles away. I was honored to be able to share this moment, even if only brief.
I have come to realize that these moments are a complete blessing. There is a significance of being able to meet a great-grandchild that is not bound by culture. We live in a world full of possibility when, within the same month, great-grandmothers in Shanghai, China and in Dallas, Texas can meet their great-grandson. The joy of meeting a new arrival to the family is hard to contain, even if it is just through a piece of technology. I hope that people living in close proximity to the great-grandparents of their children take ample opportunity to reunite and share the joy that comes from sharing new members of the family.