We’ve just returned from our annual family beach vacation. The earliest memory I have of this trip is one immortalized in photographs; camping at Salter Path, David barely one year old. Monday we celebrated his 20th birthday with a DQ ice cream cake, my mom and dad and every family member gathered around the candles and the fair-haired boy – along with my ex-husband and step-wife (HASHTAG: GRACE).
It’s been a strangely wonderful journey, all these years.
We read at the beach, all of us; we pass around books with immediate, short sentence reviews. At any given moment, you’ll find a line of us perched on beach chairs, flopped on blankets, soaking in the sun and relentless rhythm of the surf, devouring fiction and theology and memoir. I finished five books this week.
We play music at the beach, always; the Talent Show is well planned-for with sometimes amazing results. We’ve seen musical prowess grow year over year, to the point where we are amazed and proud of one another.
There are long walks, long talks, occasional tears, and really good food. A few years ago we gave up on going out to dinner – too many of us, too expensive, too cumbersome. Instead, we are challenged to bring a great recipe to the beach. My sister-in-law often wins in this regard – in fact, a few of her beach recipes have become ongoing family recipe traditions in our respective homes. Everybody is assigned a night to shop and cook – with assorted sous chefs in place. Somebody else always cleans up. We always eat well. There seemed to be a general agreement this year that Sarah’s Fish Tacos took the top prize.
There are games, always; Bananagrams and card games and Settlers of Catan. This year we enjoyed a few new X-Box games – the digital transformation continues. It’s not a bad thing; you use your smart phone to connect to the game thing and play together. It was fun!
The Enneagram was fodder for much rich conversation this time around; most of the kids arrived having done some reading and taken a preliminary test. Discussions about purpose and life and doubts, theology and the meaning of life were plentiful; guiding my 80-year old mother through the Enneagram was poignant with power and understanding for everyone in the room.
So much life; so much back and forth, give and take. Space for the introverts and extroverts alike. Room to breathe; a way to see ourselves, again. An annual marking of time and growth.
And now it’s over.
It’s Saturday afternoon now; we’re home, having dropped off Mom and Dad, unloaded and unpacked. The detritus of the week is scattered around me – a stack of books, a bag of granola, Dayquil for the one who brought along a summer cough. Uneaten apples and a bottle of rice vinegar, random stuff that I need to take back to Mom.
I trudged through the house reluctantly and decided to claim a few more minutes to finish the final beach book and eat a leftover enchilada (my sister-in-law’s most excellent recipe) that made the journey home today.
And that’s it.
I am saddened by this. Tomorrow lurks; a work day for me, and a hard one, at that. I missed rehearsal but didn’t have a replacement leader, so I’ll go cold into an early morning tech run-through. In a little over 12 hours the alarm will go off and any memories of the beach will begin to fade.
I didn’t want to let go of this one; it seemed extra meaningful, for so many reasons. My parents now do more sitting and watching than shepherding and shooing, as they once did. The kids now stay up late and have meaningful conversations, while my brother and I head for bed early. The unborn baby in my daughter’s womb was a powerful presence with us all along – I was never unaware of the life inside of my daughter, and the future that it portends.
Next year will be different…
We went into this year’s gathering with many of us saying, Well, this will probably be the last time…we’re getting so spread out…mom and dad are getting older… and then, not two days in, we had tasted and seen the richness of what love looks like, up close and personal. In the circled prayer, hands clasped, before every meal. In the rich harmonies of old John Denver songs; in the laughter and intense competition of the card games. We saw it and we knew, each one, that this was too good to let go. So we agreed, Yes, this time, next year; yes, this house. Yes.
Life is still, often, a mystery. I navigate my days, still, struggling at times to find purpose and clarity. One day I am passionately engaged in my work and the next I am wondering, I am getting this right? Contentment settles over me with the satisfaction of accomplishment and arrival, and then that slight buzz of restlessness begins to tingle in the back of my brain and I am looking, again, for what’s next. What else is there?
Who am I?
But for one week each summer I pack a bag with minimal planning and even less care, settle into a small room in a rented home with a stack of books, and I discover myself. With no concerns but that of the people around me, I find myself.
I am a daughter, a sister; a mother, an aunt. A mother-in-law. A sister-in-law. A wife. An ex-wife.
I am this person, seen by these people in this unvarnished, 24/7 existence. Sleeping, eating, conversing, playing. Engaged. Accepted. Loved.
Every good thing about what it means to have family bubbles to the surface during this one week we have together. I am always grateful for how this week gives my family back to me; this time, I am exceptionally grateful for how they give me myself, again and again and again.