It has been a summer of visitors. Yesterday, the last set of dear friends left us to return to their homes; we have had fourteen weeks of company.
We invited them, and it is no wonder that they came to revel in this place of beauty. Who wouldn’t want to swim in this blue lake, walk sand beaches, sleep hearing waves? So they came in a steady stream: some eager for rest, others ready for play, everyone wanting a reprieve from their busy lives.
I won’t pretend that in the middle, we were sometimes weary, wishing we could be alone. That was a lot of conversation and a lot of laundry.
But now that vacation season has ended and we have said the final goodbyes, I am looking back with less weariness and more gratitude for all of these people whose lives have touched ours these past few months. Here are a few thoughts:
There is no right or wrong way to vacation.
Some people love the beach; they are happy spending the day in the wind and the sun. They slather sunscreen, close their eyes and bake. On cooler days, they are content to take a book and read for hours while the waves batter the shore.
Others don’t want to sit still. Some sightsee; they read the events calendar and take in the plays, the concerts, the lighthouse tours. They rent kayaks; they visit shops.
A few friends are not happy unless they exercise; they put on wet suits to rise early to swim in the 65 degree water, or they bike fifty miles before lunch. Others love to eat out; they love the local food and were often gracious enough to buy our dinners out.
How boring if we had done the same thing week after week. Our visitors were different from each other, and I am thankful that how they vacationed was also unique.
This is a good place to hurt.
We laughed a lot this summer. We had a lot of fun. But is there anyone alive whose life is not tinged with sorrow? This summer particularly, there were people who brought with them more than the usual amount of heartache. But this place helped.
Among our visitors was a couple on their way to divorce. They have decided it will happen; their family tried to intervene, but it seems inevitable. It was awkward and tense. Still, they wanted to come here to this place of green forests and falling stars and wildflowers– partly, I suppose, to stave off the pain.
Another friend is fighting cancer. In sad conversations, we cried for the statistics that are bleak, for the future that will likely be sad. Were my probing questions about the state of their hearts too much? Perhaps. But together, they climbed the swirling steps of a lighthouse, ate Swedish pancakes on a morning out for breakfast, and watched a gorgeous sunset high on a bluff over silver water. In that there was balm in their grief.
One friend came straight from a car wreck; a week out of the hospital, he slept more than he wanted; he worried about his muddy thoughts. He napped and went to bed early. We didn’t care; in truth we were relieved that they were happy not gallivanting about seeing this or that sight. But how obvious it is that best laid plans can go awry because we are frail. And how lovely it was that we could be still–playing card games at night to the lull of waves in the background.
Even our “healthy” and “happy” friends and family visitors were not immune; sadness touches each of them from small to great degrees: wayward children, difficult jobs, health concerns. A young friend, beautiful by all accounts, is not happy. Her job isn’t right, her boyfriend is far away, her future uncertain. For another friend, retirement is close, and anxiety looms large. One family, so perfect on facebook, spent parts of their days here not speaking, angry with each other.
But here, over breakfasts of granola with fresh raspberries, there is solace in the presence of people who are genuinely glad to see each other in the morning. On the beach, we laugh in the cold water and offer towels to warm up in the sun. My children build fires at night and drink too many beers, mostly because they linger long in each others’ presence, sometimes far into the moonlit night.
And over a jigsaw puzzle, in the kitchen chopping carrots, or on the beach, we discuss work, dissect relationships or bosses, help each other parent. This is a place where we gather with our sorrows, with our accomplishments, with our fears and our foibles and our sins. We are better after we are together.
Is it this beautiful setting with its lavender skies at sunset that heals us? Or is it the stories and laughter around our table?
Is it the place or the people that offers the solace we all so desperately need? Fourteen weeks later, it’s easy to see that, of course, it is both.