Monday, September 21, 2009

Unexpected Gift

The benchmark of a good vacation is not being in a hurry to come home. I had an excellent holiday yet I couldn't wait to get back so that I could write about it. My mind works that way; something good or exciting happens and all I want to do is sit down in front of my computer to string words together.
The vacation itself was very simple this year. My husband and I rented a beach house through an agency we found on the Internet. We then drove for two days through breathtaking scenery, our car fully loaded, dog included, to get to this remote part of the country.
On the second day of the drive we ran into what was left of Hurricane Danny. Torrential rains for 500 kilometers of unfamiliar roads, often just two lane highways. But we kept a good pace and reached our cottage by the sea just before nightfall. No small feat, that, as it was at the end of an unpaved road, down a rutted driveway, far from the nearest town. The house, however, was clean and cozy and spacious enough to comfortably hold us and our invited guests for the next two weeks. For we had decided, my husband and I, that it was time to reach out to family we don't often see. In his case, he invited his youngest sister and her husband to come join us from France. On my part, I had extended an invitation to a male cousin I had not seen in over 30 years, and to his wife whom I had never met but was curious about.
My sister-in-law and brother-in-law were the first to arrive. Their excitement at being in a part of North America they had never seen before, was gratifying, their simple small-town views, humbling. It took us several days to catch up on extended family news. This we did while walking on some of the finest beaches imaginable or over simple meals lovingly prepared. We laughed a lot as we compared notes about our very different life-styles. Whenever irritations cropped up, as they are wont to do when you throw many people together in close quarters, we simply reminded ourselves that no family is perfect and that we were lucky to have this opportunity of being together. And of course, the local wine was very soothing!
Then my cousin and his wife arrived for the long weekend. I had been outside waiting for them and my excitement at the thought of re-connecting was a rather startling revelation. We had, after all, not spoken to one another in three decades. But last year, when my aunt and uncle, his parents, passed away within weeks of one another, I had written him a note and he had responded. This year I took it up a notch by inviting him and his wife to join us for part of this family holiday.
My cousin and I were inseparable as kids until I was nine and he ten. That's when my family and I emigrated here. Up to then he was the one person who knew all my secretes, who shared all my schemes and plans and got into trouble alongside of me when we got caught, which was quite often. Our contact, after my departure, was limited to two or three short visits, each  marred by on-going family squabbles and the fact that we were no longer traveling on the same road. The dynamics between us had changed through no fault of our own.
I next saw my cousin when he unexpectedly came to my adopted city as a university student. We were both in our early twenties by then. He was a handsome young man with long curly hair, dark eyes and an impish grin while I was an insecure control freak who knew nothing about how to nurture a relationship. Not surprisingly, the connection between us was rather wobbly. We had very different views with different goals, and little tolerance for our mistakes or vulnerabilities. In hindsight, I would have to say that we were youthfully self-centred at the time and only had space in our thinking process for our own survival. I think we even had a fight, or at least a major difference of opinion, but I would be hard-pressed to remember what it was about.
Fast forward to daily life, marriage, child-rearing, school and work; his took him all over the globe, mine kept me closer to home. We would hear snippets about one another through our mothers but we never made the effort to get together. An invisible line had been drawn and neither one of us cared to be the first to cross it.
But when his car turned into the driveway of our rented cottage a few weeks ago, all of that fell away and my heart leapt with unbridled joy. Our embrace instantly healed a thousand wounds as I experienced the magic of unconditional love surging through my entire being. Yes, he has lost most of his gorgeous hair and my waist is thicker, but in our hearts we were once again two kids trying not to get into trouble. Except that now we know without a doubt that we will be forever linked by our roots and our understanding of the intimate language common history has given us. Love really does transcend time and space and old hurts.
What followed were delicious days of more beach walking, more meals shared with the comforting babble of different languages around the table. As an added bonus, my cousins's wife is an absolute sweetie, a unique character who delights with a natural, unaffected manner that I instantly loved. As my sister-in-law so eloquently said when she and her husband were getting ready to head back to France: "This vacation has been such an unexpected gift." Yes, it has, for all of us.
We still have much catching up to do, my cousin and I. We could not possibly have bridged 30 years over only one long weekend. But we made a good start. Now we are trading photos and remembering long-forgotten anecdotes. We are learning about one another's children. We try not to think in terms of could-have/should-have because that would be a waste of our energy. Better to spend it on what is and what can still be.

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