Living abroad produces a rhythm of connections. 10 months out of the year you rely upon email, skype, whats app, etc to communicate with family and friends residing in your home country. Then the window opens up in June/July and over the course of 6 to 8 weeks you manage to pack in family visits, special events, if the timing works, joyful hellos and nostalgic goodbyes. We found traditions within this rhythm. Ask our boys about the late night pickups at the Albany airport and subsequent arrival in Lake George after a 30 hour trip from Jakarta. They will tell you we always declared our arrival over a Nathan’s hot dog with Grandpa. Or the traditional 36 holes of golf my brother Michael and I would manage each summer during a traditional overnight visit from Montreal. Or the evening meal often shared in a small Vergennes restaurant with our dear friends Richard and Sara – Vergennes marking a manageable halfway point between us. So, for years we made our traditions for visits seeking to ensure connections.
When you return and you are not bound by a job, opportunities exist. We decided 18 months ago that we would return to the US. Being closer to family was important, it was time. We are not getting any younger, nor are our children and siblings. We knew returning to the US would provide unique opportunities.
So, when my brother Michael (age 76) asked if we’d be interested in doing a kayak trip in Canada I had two distinct reactions. First, what a cool thing to do and certainly this is a potential “new opportunity” that would align with my vision of returning to experience such new opportunities. BUT….second, oh shit….. my inner self really wanted to know just how could I possibly avoid committing to this? Kayaking is not something I’m interested in. It’s hard work, trapped in a cramped space, stuck in a fiberglass shell at water level for hours on end, etc etc. The only way to propel oneself involves muscle movement, stop the muscles, stop the movement. At least on a bike you coast at times! I’m not a fan of kayaking……to be clear. I was conflicted. I could hatch an escape plan with heaps of excuses or I could embrace 8 days of sleeping on the ground, including successive days of sleep deprivation, and paddling in a constrictive shell for hours, not to mention headwinds and rain…..
It was my brother after all. If he was willing to take this on, how could I, 13 years younger, the baby brother not go along? And, of course, Rhona was totally into the idea. (she fits better into a kayak, just saying)
As the youngest of 4 siblings, I’ve always been grateful to my older brothers and sister, they have helped shape who I am. As well, their adventures, and to be clear, misadventures, in the 60s certainly paved the way for me with my parents/ Their “whatever, just don’t mess it up” parenting approach worked well for me. I had a wide berth as a teen!
Michael, my oldest brother, and I have shared a number of formative experiences. It was he who, when I was ten, put me on a camel in Morocco and took me to a Madrid bullfight. It was he who, when i was 18 taught me how to play 8-ball in the bars of Old Montreal. Indeed, we own a collection of shared experiences. I had no real choice but to go along with the kayak trip….
I really had no choice. Rhona and I have the time and
flexibility. We have the physical capacity. We have the resources. We have enough experience to take it on…..so we did it. AND….we loved every minute of it. We took off
from Kingston, Ontario and paddled our way up through the Rideau waterway through lakes joined by locks up through Jones Falls, Chaffeys Locks, Big Rideau, Smiths Falls, and finally 128 kilometers later to Merickville. 8 days of camping, kayaking, and hanging out. It was absolutely awesome. I felt so privileged for the opportunities. Loons and herons, wind and rain, calm waters and rough waters, hard ground and…..hard ground. It was a brilliant experience. My brother Michael (age 76, days away from 77) is an inspiration for his physical capacity and undaunted spirit. My goal is to be as fit as he is in 13 years! Rhona and I had an absolute blast!
With our first trip to the north from Asheville, we incorporated 3 nights in Detroit with Corey and Natalie that included a bike ride along the Detroit waterfront, a trip to the Motown museum and dinner with the in-laws (Rich and Stephanie)! After the kayak trip, we swept down from Montreal through Lake Placid (68km bike ride on Rhona’s birthday) to spend a couple of nights with our dear Vermont buddies Sara and Richard, and Lily and Willow!
The northern excursion was complete with a weekend in Boston with my sister Betsy, her wife Berit, and Jared/Alyssa/Lily.
Picking apples, riding bikes, and meals shared. So, so, so important to connect with family and dear friends.
What an exceptional treat to visit with old friends Ellen Foley (Jared works at her school in Boston) and in Connecticut with Kojo Clarke (a colleague from Ghana) and Susan Stengel (a colleague from JIS). Hearts and minds energized and enriched from family time and connecting with friends, our trip below the Mason Dixon line was a peaceful and easy return drive.
This last bit sounds like a travel log. That’s not the intention. My intent is to tap into that piece of us that wants to stay connected to family and friends even though we are often continents apart. What an absolute privilege it is to take 8 days to kayak with my older brother in the lakes of Ontario. What an absolute privilege it is to meander down to Boston and visit with friends along the way. It’s a reminder of how precious time and opportunities are in life. I always told students that with great privilege comes great responsibility. Privileges/Responsibilities are linked. I feel that for myself right now. I am in an unusually privileged part of my life and responsibility is still connected to that privilege.
One of those responsibilities is ensuring connections and not letting relationships fade with time and distance. Making sure I make efforts to sustain and thrive with connections. I think that is an essential message and thought to consider during this time of our Return.