Is Everything

Waking up today by the sea. Coco and I traveled out here with two people I adore: my former brother and sister-in-law, Mark and Margaret, to visit with members of the family to which I belonged when I was married the first time.

As I move deeper into the dynamics of this situation you might lose track. It could become confusing, but not because of all the descriptors, because of all the peace. Stay with me.

We are staying at a magical place called Pow Wow Point, built by my former husband’s grandparents, Helen and Richard (also, coincidently, the names of my daughter and her father, my second husband), now inhabited by their son, his wife and their charming black Lab. We have come here, in part, to say both hello and good-bye to a member of the family who is moving closer to end of life. 

  Finding treasure on the beach with Auntie Margaret and Uncle Mark.

Finding treasure on the beach with Auntie Margaret and Uncle Mark.

This is the first time in almost twenty years that I have woken up in this house. It’s a funny and jarring and wonderful feeling, to have been welcomed warmly back here into the home and lives of these people: Paddy and Laura and Uncle Dick and Jim and Carrie, all these years later.

A lot has happened in twenty years. The band of rugrats: Petie and Patrick; my boys, Sam and Nate; Jack and Olivia and Jake and Brett, whose noses barely reached the picnic tabletop twenty years ago are now all taller than us, studying interesting things in school, buying houses of their own, getting engaged and making music and art. Most of us have gray hair now and a little more to love around the middle; all of us are shocked by the passage of time. We've had procedures, we've made progress, designed houses, taught children, created thriving businesses, we've raised good people. We launched our kids then we have had to turn to our parents to figure out how to help them at the other end of life.

No one is holding a grudge or acting weird out here in this lovely place by the sea. Time will do that, if you let it: soften the rough edges of one’s righteousness, turning it into a kind of generosity that allows one to accept the truth that life rarely turns out how we imagined it would. That we screw up and make lousy choices that we later regret. Most of us have wanted some kind of shot at redemption by now and so have the skills and the grace to offer the opportunity to others when their time rolls around.

It's life people, this is what we do: forgive and move on, forgive and move on ...

It is not lost on me that this particular pilgrimage is taking place in the same week when the leaders of North and South Korea came together, shook hands, sat and shared a meal and spoke of hope and peace. Kim Jong-un began that day by stepping over a slab of concrete that marks the border between those two nations, becoming the first North Korean leader to set foot in the south. Later in the day the leaders’ wives joined them for dinner, and during the farewell ceremony the two men, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in held hands.

Families can become divided, I see it all the time in my hospice work. Communities face challenges that provoke contentious and divisive feelings and even entire countries can split in two. We can burn bridges and we can build them, too. I know we often don’t like to admit it, but we are more alike, us humans, than we are different, but we like to be right just a wee bit too often and a righteous stance is fertile ground for disintegration.

Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim broke bread and offered at least the possibility of peace in their time together. It was a gesture as old as humankind, sharing a meal and setting aside past differences. When we arrived here at Pow Wow Point Paddy and Laura set out plates of oysters and tuna, grilled sausage and octopus, the treasures of the nearby landscape. And we stood together on the back patio looking out the foggy bay, talking as if the twenty years between our last meeting and this one had never happened. Yesterday we visited with Uncle Dick, who, from his bed, held my hand and looked straight into my eyes and thanked me for sending him the cards I've been sending the past few months since his wife, Pam, died. And we both cried. "Family is everything," he said. Family is everything.

Bring peace to the table, my friends. Borders, divorces, fences, concrete slabs, these are human constructs, made permanent and unwielding only by sheer force of will. Family and the big-hearted gestures of forgiveness grace are everything. Amen.