When Nadja skyped me from Moscow, Russia early in Lent, and said that she had found an "inexpensive" roundtrip airfare to Boston, I actually told her that maybe she should reconsider and use the money to travel somewhere interesting. But when she insisted on coming home for Easter, it didn't take long for the two of us to decide to keep her visit a surprise, at least from everyone who still lives at home full-time.
I did have to let Jana, Kolbe, and Katerina in on the plan, as they would need to make travel arrangements of their own if they were going to see Nadja at all. I did not tell everything to everyone, however. The result was a wide spectrum ranging from perfect knowledge to complete ignorance. In between things got complicated. Katerina knew about Nadja, but not Jana. Jana knew about Nadja, but not Katerina. Kolbe knew about Nadja and Katerina, but not Jana. My mother knew about Jana, but not Nadja or Katerina. Suffice it to say that the complicated web of deceit became too much for me to keep track of. After the fourth week of Lent or so, I just stopped saying much of anything to anyone.
When Nadja's plane landed on Palm Sunday afternoon, I had already contrived the need to run a few "errands" with one of the boys. Before we went home, we surprised Austin and my mother at Market Basket, where they were working and shopping, respectively. In the driveway, Nadja surprised Andrew and her two youngest sisters by popping up from the back seat as they began to unload the back of the minivan. She arrived just in time to rehearse for Tenebrae at St. Maria Goretti.
We hadn't planned for Katerina to travel home at Easter. But when it was clear that she would be the only one missing if we didn't bring her back, she bought a ticket for a Wednesday flight from Denver. Delayed by bad weather, she landed about 12:30 a.m. My alarm went off just about then, so I ran out to the car in a bit of a blur and hightailed it down to Logan. Once home, Katerina sneaked around to the back. I rang the bell to wake everyone up with the news that there was some kind of "wild cat" in the back yard they just had to see, even though it was 1:30 in the morning. She meowed, and they laughed. Jana and crew arrived for lunch on Holy Thursday. Kolbe pulled into the driveway later that evening, while we were at Mass. In the morning, he woke up to many more visitors than he had expected. It was a series of surprises that will be difficult to match in years to come.
As our children's successive arrivals began, I couldn't help but think about how appropriate it was that all this gathering of family was happening at Easter. Each holiday has its special flavor, but Easter is the greatest pilgrimage feast of all time. For with his rising from the dead, Jesus opened not only the grave of human exile to let us out, but the gates of heaven to welcome us in. The Great and Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep, now leads us into his eternal sheepfold. There, we will not suffer death. Beside quiet waters and in green fields, we will live forever with him and with each other.
Our Holy Week was sanctified by the opportunity to just be together. Sure, there are always those little annoyances that remind us we are still human and on this side of eternity. But because it has become increasingly difficult to coordinate reunions, we have all grown in our appreciation of one another's presence.
I believe that the fullness of the resurrection will be a lot like this Holy Week was for our family: a series of long-awaited arrivals, and many joyful surprises. It will be set into motion by the one coming we all anticipate whether we know it or not, the appearance of Christ as King. And unlike Easter at our house this year, there will be no need to say goodbye again. That alone is worthy of the double alleluia.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.