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A Family on the Beach in Hilton Head

I’m not sure how to talk about the trip I took and what I thought about on the long ride home, but it’s worth a try.

The first, very obvious realization was about my own self, and how, I who was never one of the ‘it girls’ or at the center of things, am moving further back out to the edges of life and culture. Hilton Head Island is beautiful The tree canopy was even more stunning to me than the ocean. And it is also extraordinarily manicured and well cared for. I was in an enclave of great privilege and that was brought home to me when I realized that in the parking building of my Airbnb, I was parked between a Lamborghini and a Porsche. I struggle these days with the excesses of privilege—I simply can’t get my mind around people paying hundreds of millions of dollars for a quick trip into space when there is such desolation that could be alleviated by that kind of money. I knew how to move in that Hilton Head Island kind of space; it wasn’t like I was not grateful for the beauty, the quiet, and the graciousness. I just find myself wanting to simplify my life more and more, ask less of our “Mother Earth,” and give more of what little I have to give of myself and my privilege.

Being with my cousin and her family was pure, exquisite joy. I lived very disconnected from my family for most of my adult life. With my brothers in Europe, my parents and the rest of the family in Colombia and Panama, it was easy to build without them. I discovered when my dad came to live with us, that having a family member in such close proximity made my life so rich and meaningful, even on the hard days.  For years, I was busy, my cousin and her family were busy, and there are a million other excuses I could give for having done a poor job of staying in touch with her. But she stood next to me as I officiated at my dad’s burial, and she helped give air the oxygen I needed to take the next breath.  

Her family and I could not be on more different ends of the political spectrum. We had a few careful conversations but not ones that lasted very long. I have learned a wonderful way of being respectful when it comes to political differences. It is a simple phrase: “I think I understand what you are saying, and I see things very differently.” That reminds me not to pull out my old habits as a member of the debate team in High School and simply listen, keep showing up.  I wasn’t there to compete for the best argument in support of a political position. I was there because I love these folks and don’t get to see them nearly enough.

And the hardest, perhaps truest, truth of these past few days:  Both my cousin and her husband had terrible Covid at the end of 2020, before there were any vaccines available. Both almost died.  Additionally, there is a vein of dementia that runs through her mother’s side of the family. My cousin appears to be slipping into that dark night, especially since she got Covid. It is still early and only now, is the family beginning to consider a thorough evaluation. God, we all hope we are wrong. While we were together, she and I laughed and carried on, told old stories. This is the cousin whose two sons were killed by the FARC, narcoguerrillas in Colombia, in 1987. We talked more about the days around those deaths than ever before and I was humbled that I was allowed into that place.  While my cousin’s slippage was obvious, it has not affected the deep, deep love that she and I share so it wasn’t anything that took away from the goodness of our time.

Driving home yesterday, with no delays or rain, only sunshine and lovely rolling hills and open spaces between Savannah and Lowndesboro, I ached with the knowledge of how quickly time goes by, how many goodbyes and losses I’ve already experienced and how many more lie ahead. It is so trite and cliché.  And so essential. Make it count. Don’t think you’ll have another chance. Don’t forget to tell people how much you love them and what it means that they love you. I forget all that constantly. I shut down, go into work mode with blinders on. Being with my cousin was a nudge from the Spirit of Love and Life telling me, “don’t forget…” 

Monday After Easter

If you know me, you know I am quite driving-averse. Like, a lot.  I surprised my own self this morning. I had checked tire pressure, had gotten new windshield wiper blades, filled the windshield washer fluid up to the top and charged a fancy new jumper set in case my battery dies (I even remembered to put it in my car last night). At 7:30 this morning, I hit the road—filled up on gas, went through the car wash and then got on I-85. 

About 20 miles northeast of Montgomery, traffic stopped. Just stopped. And my iMap guide started flashing a portion of the interstate up ahead in red. It also indicated I could expect a delay of 1 ½ hours. Sure enough. We crawled along, until finally, I came to a place where one of those 18 wheel rigs had somehow crashed into an embankment and the whole front was basically smooshed into the container it was pulling.  I prayed for the driver and his/her family. Soon after, I got to the exit I needed to take to get on a gorgeous back road that would carry me to Phenix City, Alabama, and Columbus, Georgia. On my way home, I plan to do some photography along that stretch.  From there, I headed east on a state road to Macon (also in Georgia). The best part of this leg was seeing acre after acre of solar panels harvesting sunlight. We are so extraordinarily resistant to anything like that in Alabama that I am thrilled when I see it in other places.

About 30 miles from Macon I got on I-75 N and then took a turn to the east again, to get on I-16. I’d been on I-16 for a mile when again. Traffic slows to barely a crawl.  At one point it comes to a standstill while an ambulance zooms by. We are stopped for several minutes and when I look across at the driver in the van in the lane to the left of me, he’s leaning against his window, sound asleep. When traffic started moving again, folks behind him began to honk like crazy.  When I lost sight of him, the van was still not moving and I wondered if he was alright. I thought about these crazy, stressed out, selves of ours that get into cars and drive. How do we live to tell the tales?

Then I drove straight east for another 220 miles. It was interstate driving which means it was pretty boring but there wasn’t much traffic, the rain had ended and I was listening to a nice book on Audible. The road also brought me closer and closer a true nemesis: I-95. There are simply no words. None. Not after navigating that interstate in South East Florida for almost 20 year. 

I got on 95 just a few miles away from Savannah, GA and headed up north, pleasantly surprised by how light the traffic was though I did see several speed demons with FL license plates weaving across lanes at ungodly speeds… A few miles from the border with South Carolina, third verse, the same as the first, a little bit longer and a little bit worse.  Traffic slows down to a crawl. Even slower than the other two times. Now I’m beginning to run low on gas so some anxiety hops in to take a seat with me. It ended up being a 16-mile backup caused by another accident. Finally, finally, I got off on the right exit and made a beeline for the first available gas station and then drove for another 32 miles. I was on roads that carried me past estuaries and rivers in the low country where Pat Conroy grew up, and where the movie Prince of Tides was filmed.  Finally, I got here.

I am meeting up with my wonderful, crazy cousins for the next two days and driving home on Thursday.  I’ll see them a good chunk of each day and I will also have time to myself. But this picture:

This is why I came. This is why I didn’t mind at all, driving for almost 11 hours to get Hilton Head, SC. After I got settled in my Airbnb, I walked a couple of blocks to the beach and just listened to the surf. I bet Jesus is around here somewhere too, hoping that after all that praying, all that worshipping, all that music and all those flowers he had to pay attention to for the last week, he may get to have a bit of solitude, standing on the shore, looking out at the sea.

Happy Easter Season and good night!