I have been holding my breath since I was 12. For those of you in the studio audience who are counting, that's 31 years. Three decades. And [read with sarcastic tone] thanks for counting in the first place.
Whether you're counting or not, it's a helluva long time to wait to exhale.
One day when I was 12, my mom asked me to grab something out of her dresser drawer. There, I found a picture: the smiling faces of three of my siblings as children–ages ranging from about 12 down to about four. But there was a fourth child in the picture–a beautiful little girl about age 10. She was smiling like the rest of them.
What struck me, though, was that she looked so much like my siblings. Like she belonged. Part of a set.
When I asked my mom about the little girl in the picture, she broke down in tears. Over the next four hours, I heard a story that my 12 year-old brain could barely wrap itself around. By the time my mom stopped talking, we were both exhausted. And all cried out.
The little girl in the picture was my sister.
I won't go into all the details around her departure from my immediate family. The past deserves to stay in the past.
But she was gone. Strangely enough, adopted by the brother of my mom's first husband and his wife, which legally made her a cousin to my three other siblings in the picture. Sometimes God has a wicked sense of humor.
Occasionally, I would hear reports about her from my siblings, who would see her at family gatherings of the "Mom's 1st husband's family" variety. But I had never met her, never seen another picture.
Late last fall, one of my other sibling's called me and told me that she and my sister had not only been in contact, but had experienced a full-fledged reuniting. They got each other back. The four children in the picture were back in the picture again.
Then came the best part of the news: that my sister had expressed a wish for me to be in the picture, too.
The upshot of all this is tomorrow, after 31 years, I get to join my siblings–my sister included–at a family gathering. Robbye, Zach, and I are going to my sister's cabin to meet her and her husband and all their kids for a day of fun and (apparently) of devouring every type of barbecued meat imaginable.
I am a little nervous, but in a good way. To think of it brings to mind the final scenes of THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. The ones where Red is heading across the border to meet Andy Dufresne in Mexico.
"I hope to see my friend," Red says. "I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams."
I hope, too. And I am hopeful.
More than anything, I am grateful. Finally…to exhale.