When I was in Florida last year, my father and his wife came to pick me up at my sister’s house to take me out to lunch. My mother, suffering from a recent personal crisis, decided to take this opportunity to stop by for a visit. What was interesting was that my parents hadn’t spoken or seen each other in 35 years. My mother, having had the chance to prepare for the encounter, dressed for the occasion and arrived positive and bubbly. My father, on the other hand, being introverted and shy, was taken off guard. The whole episode lasted less than 10 minutes, but left each of us contemplating the meaning of the event.
The word reunion can mean a gathering or an assembly. It can also mean the restoration of harmony or reconciliation. According to thesaurus.com, both meanings are related to the word junction – which is a place that two or more things come together. And, junction, comes from the word juncture which means an event that occurs at a point in time when a critical decision must be made. Therefore, every reunion requires us to consider who will we be when we participate in the reuniting?
When I was at my 10th high school reunion, I remember my friend Pam saying she would never attend another high school gathering. Even a decade after high school, she still felt like the teenager once again snubbed by the popular crowd. And, true to her word, she didn’t attend the 20th or 30th reunions.
In the recent novel The Chaperone, the main character who grew up in an orphanage goes in search of her birth mother. She locates her in Boston and the woman agrees to see her. The daughter takes the acceptance of the invitation as a sign that the reunion will result in a long term relationship. But, her mother has a different goal for their get together. She wants to assuage her guilt. And, once she finds out that her daughter has married well, has children of her own, and is well off, she asks her never to contact her again.
In this week’s parsha, we witness the reunion of Jacob and Esau, brothers who haven’t seen each other in decades. The evening prior to their meeting, Jacob wrestles with what very well may be his conscience and his name is changed is Israel…symbolically telling us that he is no longer the same person that he was when he and Esau last met. And now, at this critical juncture he is ready and willing to make peace with his sibling. Esau, too, has changed. He has a large family and he is successful. He no longer has a need to cling to a birthright.
Once we look beneath the surface, we realize that reunions aren’t as much about the gathering as they are about the self we choose to bring to the gathering. Reunions are about whether we want to enable tikkun – repair and shalom – peace or whether we want to perpetuate separation.
After my parent’s unexpected reunion, I asked my mother what possessed her to show up at my sister’s house when she knew my father would be there. She said that she wanted family gatherings that included the grandchildren to be possible in the future and she wanted them to be devoid of awkwardness. She believed that this impromptu reunion would be the perfect ice breaker. When my father inquired as to my mother’s motivations, he, too, agreed that this seemed like an acceptable goal.
In the end, Jacob and Esau were able to bury their father, Isaac, together, bringing a sense of wholeness to their family and to themselves as siblings and as twins. They, like my parents, estranged for so long, seem to have agreed on a positive outcome to their meeting. What this tells us is that when all parties of the reunion are in sync, like-minded at the critical juncture, reconciliation can, indeed, be the outcome of the gathering.