I have a small beauty mark above my right ear. My grandmother, Camille Webber -- we call her Mamah -- has the same mark in the exact same spot.
I'm proud of that beauty mark, and I'm proud that a quarter of my DNA comes from my paternal grandmother, a woman whose first name is my middle and whose marinara sauce is my favorite.
And still, despite our matching marks and her contribution to my genetic makeup, I don't particularly look like her. In addition to the 50 years between us, my hair falls long and blond, hers short and chestnut brown. I'm tall with a round face, while her heart-shaped face barely reaches my shoulder. Side by side, it's not obvious that we're related.
I thought about this the other day as I watched her laugh at one of our Sunday night dinners at her house in Medford, surrounded by her husband, her children and their spouses, and her grandchildren. The image is indelible, these 14 people squeezed around a table for eight, and made me wonder what makes the picture so beautiful. What is it that connects us all?
The strength of any group, team or family, like the strength of a muscle, depends on its many fibers. Each fiber is a life experience -- trips to the operating room for my knee surgeries or to Disney World for family reunions, cleaning the house together for Christmas parties as a scratchy Dean Martin vinyl record plays, and jokes born from our many hours in a 14-passenger van traversing Yellowstone National Park. Each fiber is a moment, a memory, a cry of pain or a burst of laughter. Each fiber makes the muscle stronger.
In the Sunday dinner freeze-frame in my mind, my uncle is doing impersonations, my aunts are making each other laugh with only their eyes, my mom is reaching for my dad's hand, mid-giggle. All five cousins are reloading their plates, while my sister is wordlessly encouraging my Poppop, who is aiming a napkin ball at my Mamah's water glass. Mamah is trying to decide between a laugh and an eye roll, but her entire being is smiling.
This moment is great because of the moments that precede it, the days together, the months apart, and the years of knowing where to find love when you need it.
At 21, I'm certainly not old, but I've seen enough to know that this moment is one I'm lucky to be a part of. I know that this muscle has grown quite a bit since a striking young Camille met 82nd Airborne paratrooper Frederick at East Islip's Twins Inn more than 50 years ago.
I know that our easy laughter is a gift, that the constant overlap and interruption of dinner-table conversation is beautiful and that our kinship is a testament to the woman about to roll her eyes and the man about to sink a napkin ball in her drink. Because of them, I know that a lot of the time, simply being there, being together, is more than enough.
While I'm proud of my beauty mark, I also have to acknowledge the intangibles that my Mamah gave me, gave our family -- her own recipe of loyalty, humility, humor, bravery and beauty measured as she measures salt in the palm of her hand -- to enable such a moment to occur: 14 people sitting around a table, eating, laughing and loving one another.