One lovely advantage of a family summer cabin is the nearly guaranteed yearly reunion with favorite people. In my childhood, the extended family settled into a pattern: the cousins from New York came in July, we drove up from Kansas to overlap for a week before staying on in August. A third and fourth set of cousins came less regularly, but there was nothing better than their arrival at the beach and the days of endless play with cousins who are people in a special category: like friends except better; like siblings without the familial conflict.
Some relatives we saw more than others, but as they came and went, the constant we could count on was conversation with someone who liked us.
My niece and her family are here this week, she for her 36th time. As we “caught up” on the year’s events, the value of such conversations became clear to me. Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living. “ Those once yearly conversations, I see now, are a great way to examine our lives. Throughout the year we live our lives in separate places, and we might hear about the broad strokes of a relative’s life like surgery or loss of job or backpacking trip. But when we have the luxury of time to chat, it gives us the chance to really evaluate, and then articulate. “Yes I do like my job, but my boss is a challenge. I’m not sure whether I should stay… My daughter is having trouble making friends, and I don’t know what to do about it…We’re having money issues, and we’re in a bit of trouble…. I’ve met somebody really wonderful….
As my cousins and I grew out of sandcastles or silly games on the beach, we never stopped being glad of the reunions. Over board games and card games we’d recount the ups and downs of our year. We asked each other questions; we’d self reflect and then speak honestly about what was good in our life, what was not.
The grandparents and aunts and uncles welcomed us in; they were interested; they cared. And now we watch our nieces and the younger relatives grow into adulthood, and they watch us age. And each time there is the coming back to people who have seen the ebb and flow of our lives and are eager to hear the year’s news.
Twelve years ago one of my favorite cousins died suddenly at age 48. I don’t think of him much throughout the year anymore, but when I am sitting on the beach and the sky is all glory with the milky way, I can find myself stabbed with a terrible pain of missing him- even now, all these years later. I miss the chats about life we had when we were ten, and then eleven, and then fourteen and then twenty. I remember the nights we sat together with our spouses sharing stories of our joys and challenges. Later, we sat together with our children on our laps, talking as we helped them count the meteors that fell into an August sky.
Everybody should be so blessed to have people ask “how was your year?” and then expect an honest and comprehensive answer. In this summer place we watch each other grow, age, change. At this place of sand and water, trees and sky, the questions we ask and the words we say are perhaps the best gifts of all.
The gorgeous star picture is courtesy of Tory Lynn Photography. She was a recent guest and took this picture from the beach. Check out her remarkable photography at www.torylynnphoto.com