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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…” 

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