Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Two Islands and the Spaces in Between

I've never lived on an island, but I've visited a couple. I have a dear friend who makes Tybee Island his home and makes his home open to friends who want to experience island living. It's a great chance to feel the ocean breeze, to meet characters that you never believed existed outside of a novel, and try to match your internal clock to “island time” - which is harder than you might think.

The first time I visited Tybee Island was when I was in college and I really didn't get the flavor of it then. I was there with a bunch of college friends and all we cared about was the fact that there was a beach. And girls. And food. Hey, it was college. I had the opportunity to rediscover a whole new (to me) Tybee much later.

I forgot all about islands as I tried to make a place for myself in the so-called “real world.” It was what I was raised to do and if I didn't do that, then I had failed. I went to school. Then I went to graduate school. I got a job working for a major religious denomination as part of my search to answer the “call” to whatever it was I was created to do. There's nothing wrong with any of that and I'm glad for the learning and growing experiences I had in the process. It took years for me to discover or admit that there was more to life.

It began with the call of an island.

I first truly encountered Ireland through music. I heard the ancient and the traditional music of the Emerald Isle and it spoke to me. It told me of green hills and valleys as old as time. It spoke of spirituality and humanity blended and inseparable. I'd never been there, yet it spoke of home. Once I found a book of Wyoming County, West Virginia history, the place my great-grandfather called home. It mentioned our family and that we were of “Irish descent.” I'm not sure exactly what that means, but there you are. There are Wesley's in Ireland and perhaps there is a very old connection to them. I like to think so.

When I visited Ireland, I did a lot of the touristy things – walking through cathedrals and shopping districts and going to shows. I also spent some time trying to open my mind and soul to what the island might be saying to me. I sat in the silence of Glendalough, the site of a former monastery, and listened. I looked at the ancient tombstones, worn to the thickness of half an inch, chipped and ragged around the edges, any names long ago worn away by wind and rain. Ireland spoke and I listened.

It seems that there is more to life than I had experienced and it was time that I knew it. I may never go again (I would in a heartbeat if I could afford it), but now I understand more fully that I am part of the Great Connection – spirit of humanity and spirit of the divine meeting in the harmony what it means to be alive. The song is forever. Ireland is ancient and eternally young and I love her.

Sadly, I had to come back to where everyday life waited. It was too easy to become immersed in paying bills and taking care of mundane things. It was too easy to let the lessons and spirit of Ireland become memories to be visited instead of life to be lived. I had left the island and was in the doldrums of the space in between, where the lack of breeze or current leaves you foundering.

Not too long ago, I reconnected with some incredible friends from the old days of college. We arranged to meet at Micheal's house on Tybee Island and see what happened. A lot happened, including the rediscovery of relationships that had been lacking in my life and had left an empty place where they once lived. Now they are back. It was magical and it still is.

In subsequent visits, I've met more of the folks of Tybee and gotten a small glimpse of what it means to be part of that place. It's a different pace and relaxed attitude, but it's more than that. On Tybee there is a community that loves its members. They take care of one another and lift one another up. They forgive one another when it's necessary and move on. They celebrate life and living. It's epic and intimate at the same time.

Then there are the spaces in between – the uncertainty and lack of direction. It's like the trough between the waves. There air in the troughs is stifling. No breeze, no current to move me forward or carry me back to the island. The doldrums.

There is no way around the doldrums. One can only wait for the wind to change and the ocean to decide to move. Then we can find our way to the shores we long for, be they sandy beaches or green hills. It'll happen. When? In it's own time and in it's own way.

I love the islands I've been to. Whether or not I spend extended time there, they continue to teach me lessons about life and especially about myself. I've still got a lot to learn, but the islands are patient. They will always be there. The winds will blow and the currents will move.

I'm just waiting to go with them.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Being a Father on the 4th.

There's a cool snap going on, so I'm writing this on the back deck. When I say “cool snap,” I mean that it's about 86 degrees. Not bad, but there's no breeze and the humidity feels like I'm in an episode of “Swamp People.” I don't do very well with high humidity. It's like wearing a straight-jacket of damp air that won't let go. I may drown without getting near the water.

Yesterday was July 4th. People were grilling various meat and meat products in their backyards, my neighbor was setting off possibly illegal fireworks, and the dominant theme in every fashion choice was red-white-and-blue. I like Independence Day. I enjoy the summer holiday atmosphere, baseball games, and the general party that goes with the day. I also enjoy living in America. Where else could you seriously consider the implications of the freedoms that our forefathers intended for our country while heading out to the local Hyundai dealers' “Sale-a-bration?” Really, does everything have to have some kind of blowout, once-in-a-lifetime, prices-were-never-lower kind of shameless hawking of goods and services? I just don't believe that this was the intention of the Declaration of Independence. If it was, it would be called the “Declaration of Super Savings,” or the “Declaration of Incredible Bargain Madness.” I'd really like to be independent of all this ridiculous selling and from people telling me that I simply must have whatever it is that they simply must sell.

July 4th has another significance for me that I've been doing a pretty good job of avoiding over the years. July 4, 1923 was the day my father was born. He would have been 88 years old yesterday. I would have continued to let this particular aspect of the day pass unnoticed but for a couple of things. On the first of the month, my wonderful friend, Micheal, wrote a beautiful tribute to his own father who passed away just two years ago. It was a moving account of saying goodbye and saying thank you. Secondly, Linda was in the process of cleaning things out of a closet yesterday that had been in there for maybe 20 years (it's amazing how stuff accumulates!). Part of that cleaning was going through old papers and photographs that my mother had stored over the years. I came face-to-face with my father again through photos and documents.

I never had the relationship with my father that others have been blessed to have. There were a number of reasons for that. Being raised an only child often means that the expectations placed on you are heavy. Being raised the only child of an alcoholic creates issues of another kind. There are memories of family that are good. There are others that I have chosen to compartmentalize and seal away, never to be seen again. There are some that cannot be entirely forgotten or put away. They are like old photographs that resurface every now and again, ready to be looked at and ready to bring back old feelings thought gone for good.

I have no intention of recounting any of those memories here. We all have ghosts and memories of the past that we face regularly. I'm just wondering what kind of memories my children will have of me when they consider their own childhood. I guess it's the concern of most fathers. What will be the lasting images and feelings we give our children to carry with them? It's something that I wonder more and more now that both my children have reached “grown-up” age and beyond.

I've done my best most of the time. I'm ashamed to say that there were times when I could have been better, sometimes much better, at being Dad. It seems that the older I get the more I remember the mistakes and the things I should have done. I wonder what impact those things are having and will continue to have on a son and daughter that deserved only the very best. How would things have been different? How could they have been better? Is it too late now to make that kind of difference?

There's no way to really know the answer to those questions. I can only do what I can with what I have in time, resources and opportunity. All three tend to decrease as the years increase, so the odds are not in my favor. Still, trying is all I have left.

If you're young enough that you don't have children as yet or if your children are young, remember this one thing: No one ever came to the end of their lives and said, “I wish I'd spent less time with my kids.”