I am currently reading through the Old Testament book of Numbers in my daily Bible reading program. Numbers is one of those stimulating Old Testament books that reports the results of a census taken of the children of Israel under the leadership of Moses after escaping their bondage in Egypt. It’s as exciting as its title: Numbers. Accountants love this book. If you love math, you’ll love Numbers.
What surprises you first is the staggering number of people. The 12 tribes, named after the 12 sons of Jacob, are listed and all the adult males are counted because this is a census of troops, and the grand total is over 600,000 fighting men. That means the total population must have been well over a million. Imagine a million people wandering around in the desert. No wonder Pharaoh didn’t want to let these people go. That’s a huge work force, the loss of which must have impacted the economy of Egypt in a big way.
A million people, divided into 12 clans, each under one patriarch. Those are big families gathering around the flag of their tribe. They range in size from Benjamin and Manasseh at 35,000, to Judah, at 75,000. My experience of traveling with family was five people piling in a 1950 Ford, setting off on a vacation to Texas from southern California.
It’s fitting that I am reading Numbers, however, because what’s left of the Fischer clan gathered together earlier this week in a restaurant in Anaheim. There were five of us in this group: my sister, Diane, who was visiting from Connecticut (the reason for the gathering); my brother, David, and his wife; Elaine, and Marti and me. There are five other fighting men in our clan, but this was just the senior members.
I’ll be the first to say that I am not terribly close to my brother and sister. There’s not any real reason for that except that our busy lives are not in the same circle. My parents were busy serving the church, and our family did not exactly foster close relationships. Like any family, we’re dysfunctional. (Have you ever met a family that wasn’t?) I am reminded of the cartoon that has one lonely guy sitting in the front row of a large and completely empty convention room with a banner overhead that reads: “National Association of Children of Non-dysfunctional Families.” And the guy looks dysfunctional.
I look at the faces in the selfie I took and have a fleeting sense of the pain that lies just under the surface of those smiles. Being a prominent church family, we were always taught to put our best foot forward, which required an awkward little dance, because the other foot never knew where to go. And yet, after all that switch-footing around, here we were having lunch, and some of that pain came out, and there were tears, laughter and prayers. All in all, it was a memorable gathering that brought us just a tiny step closer. And here’s the best part: The judgment and condescension I was anticipating was nowhere to be found. Just love and attempts at understanding. Love covers over a multitude of sins. Marti and I felt a little lighter afterwards.
Upon leaving, I had to take a picture of the restaurant signage, the significance of which I honestly didn’t realize until we got there: