I spent last weekend in Northern Ireland to attend the funeral of an uncle, someone for whom I have always retained great affection, as I have for all his family. As is often the case with funerals, perhaps especially in Ireland, it was an opportunity to meet relatives I don’t see very often, first, second and even third cousins, their spouses and children. With most of these people I have very little in common, in terms of shared memories, shared interests, work background, or life experience. Yet it was a reminder that once lives touch each other, however briefly or glancingly, some sort of bond is established, if only because awareness of difference can encourage us to discover and affirm our own individuality. We do not make ourselves, and, for better or worse, we are shaped by those we have related to in any way in our journey through life. Moreover, the experience of meeting again after a long time can be rendered poignant by the sense of regret that the passage of time, and the fact that our lives unfold along different trajectories, have too often made it impossible to get to know our extended families in any significant depth, or to be enriched by their distinctive personalities and gifts.
Coincidentally, I have also recently re-established contact with people I last saw on our graduation day nearly fifty years ago. It is a reminder that we never cease being part of a community which is greater than our immediate or most cherished relationships. No human contact ever goes to waste: ‘this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me’ (Jn. 6:39).