Saturday, February 28, 2015

Shedding my skin

It was a little less than a year ago that I returned from a week at a SC beach with my family.

Photo by Patty Lawton

And I came back changed.

When I returned, my skin was raw and itchy.  Yeah, I know.  I should have checked the expiration date on the sunblock.  I should have worn a shirt.  And a hat.  And long pants.  Maybe socks and shoes. And maybe I shouldn't have been allowed out in the sun anyways.  After seven years without letting my skin see the light of day, it was a bit of a shock to the system to get so much sun in a week.  That kind of shock was bound to change my appearance.  Pink skin.  Acne breakouts where I applied the sunblock.  Particularly sensitive skin where my shingles had not yet completely healed.  I looked very different than I did when I left for Fripp Island, SC, two weeks earlier.

As much as my poor skin experienced change during those weeks, it was nothing like the changes that have gone on in my family over the past few years. While we were at Fripp, I got to meet (and, a little bit, to know) some relations I had never met.  Jordan and Kirstyn are wounderful (stealing Pop-Pop's misspelling)
cousins, and I fell in love with them from the very beginning.  Another new addition was an unexpected surprise.  My late cousin Buddy found out a month or so earlier that he is the father of a five-year-old boy. (Buddy died in a horrible one-car accident less than three months later). 

Normally, a new, unexpected kid coming into the family would have caused some strange interactions, with uncomfortable moments peppering every encounter.  But it was awesome.  Preston immediately joined in with the play that all of us Parkers seem to carry with us everywhere we go, and was embraced from the first instant as one of us. 

As was his mom.  It all seemed to work out - Stacy was great, he was great, and we all had a blast together.  It even went well when he turned to his mom as she was leaving to allow him his first sleepover night - with us - and said, "Mommy, it's OK for you to go.  I have another Mommy here who can fill in."

Buddy, Preston, and Stacy
Every head turned to see how a mother who had raised Preston solo for his entire life would react to such a statement.  

She blinked slowly.  And looked at him, and said, "OK."
The truth was, they both fit into the fabric of our family in ways we did not anticipate, or even hope for. 

The whole week we were at the beach, the family was visited by ghosts.  My mom heard Dad and his silly, repeated greeting to the lowcountry when she crossed the first marsh creek.  "Hi, Tide!"  "Hi, Mac!"  " 'Lo, Tide!"  " 'Lo, Mac". 

We all felt the presence of our Nana (did I really almost resurrect the Gram/Nana debate with Buddy?) while we were looking for sea urchins and skate egg sacs on the beach.  Johnny and his scuba diving, Pop Pop.... even great-grandmothers who, according to legend, could sit on the waves while reading a book.

Story after story, we re-connected to who we are - connecting to both the ghosts and to the living.  Family songs, dredged from ancient memories, resurrected from 5-hour-long car rides to the beach.  And even a few modifications to the lyrics....
And I think that is what metamorphosis is really about.  You see, I look at my family and I see such an amazing variety of people.  All are successful in very different ways.  Some are true musical geniuses, who understand music at a visceral level, Others are engine whisperers.  Some are athletes, while others of us fall over while tying our own shoes.  Entrepreneurs.  Problem solvers.  Actors, managers, engineers, chemists, accountants, academics, IT specialists, administrators, artists.  It makes no sense - zero sense - for those people to get along.  Very little of our lives are shared in common, we live in different places, value different things, and see things very differently.

And yet...

And yet there is something in us that is bonded.  We who grew up with SC barrier island sand between our toes, we just feel differently about it than anywhere else in the world.  My cousin Melanie said that her Seattle co-workers, (some of whom had even been to coastal SC), said to her "The way you describe this place makes it sound like such a mystical, magical place.  And I just can't even imagine what it is that draws you there."  

And I understand that failure to understand. There are a lot of things that seem less than ideal to the uninitiated.

The water is not clear - and that can be disconcerting.  My sister, addressing whatever unseen critter had just brushed up against her, kept yelling "NO TOUCHING!" at the dark, murky water while she was body surfing. The beach is not snow-white sand, and the shells are pretty beat up by the surf.  What beach there is disappears under the high tide, leaving the waves to crash against the huge granite boulders placed there to 'protect the dunes'.  At low tide, it is a pretty long hike just to get to the water's edge. 
Photo by Patty Lawton

There are all kinds of hidden dangers: the 4' long shark that swam between me and the shore while we were body surfing (maybe the same critter Caroline yelled at).  The stingray caught by the fisherman in the surf just to the right of our house.  Razor-sharp oysters and barnacles attached to rocks mined from quarries far, far away.  
Photo by Patty Lawton

But there seems to be something special there that feeds our souls.  A place where we grow.  Where we re-connect with who we are meant to be.  We get sunburnt, we body surf, we build drip castles in the border between the water and the shore, and watch our toes disappear under the golden-brown sand.  We see ghost crabs at night, ballet dancing across the hard-packed beach.

We get up early and experience (and mock) the silly politics of the turtle volunteer program.  We share in the wonder of the teeming life that we find all around us - from the hermit crab to the whelks to the live sand dollars, sting rays, skates, horseshoe crabs.  And we quietly let the island deer approach - curious enough to come up, unafraid, to see if you had a treat.  We use all of these moments as a collective 'worry stone' when we go back to our jobs, our stresses, our lives.  Like fish, we are drawn to, and must return to - these waters of our birth.
I came back from the beach changed.  The sand has long since been washed out from between my toes (and out of my hair, my ears, and my belly button).  I peeled, and the tanned skin underneath the burn has totally faded.  I shaved off the ratty excuse for a beard, and I got a haircut. 

Photo by Patty Lawton
And as I sit in my cubicle every afternoon, looking at the royal purple fragment of the olive shell I found, I realize that like the sun, my life chafes, burns and leaves me itchy and raw.  But that is OK, because I am not the same person who was being chafed by the job two weeks earlier.  

See, my vacation at Fripp Island year was not about respite or relaxing.  It was about re-connecting.  

It was about shedding the burned, dead skin, and showing the world the bright, shiny new exterior. 


Terrea Parker said...

What a beautiful story of the truth that we all enjoyed! Tell it again and again. Love it and love you.


Terrea Parker said...

I noticed that the turtle crawl that you found when we were at Fripp(since I have been educated through the volunteer program I now know which way the turtle is moving)would mean that the turtle was hiding in the granite seawall, don't know why I didn't rally everyone to move those boulders so we could get an up close looksee of one of the magical and mystical rewards of sunburn. This crawl pattern seems familiar to me as an amateur hear turtle turtle turtler of years past found by me and my nephew. This particular crawl from years past has always bugged me because if the crawl was real that turtle should have been there years ago...or maybe it was the same magical and mystical one that was again hiding in the boulders? Me thinks I smell we did light up like a lightning bug when we swam in the creek I remember it I'm sure or was that Debideau? Hmmm