Thursday, March 10, 2016

Building Bridges

On Tuesday morning, the kids and I got up at 5:00am and drove 5+ hours across the desert from Tucson to San Diego. Craig had work commitments so he arranged a rental car and a hotel for us so we could make the trip without him. I had called a couple of aunts and my brother, Darrell, last week to let them know we would be in town.  

I lived in San Diego from the time I was born until 1984 when my dad took a job with the corporate office of Hilton Hotels and we moved to Houston.  My mom's two adult sons from her first marriage lived in San Diego, as well as all of my dad's family.  My brothers and their wives and kids would visit us almost every weekend when they were available, and we spent nearly every holiday together.  My dad was very close to his aunts, uncles and cousins in the area so we saw them often.  His Aunt Mary and Uncle Lee were like his second parents and their two daughters were like his sisters.  For the first 14 years of my life, these people were everywhere and everything for me.  But once we moved, we never went back to visit San Diego again.  I have no idea why.  A few family members made the trip to Houston to visit us once or twice, but for the most part, we didn't see them much after we moved.  

The next time I was in San Diego was in 2008, just after my mom died.  My dad wanted to have a small memorial for her in California.  Looking back, I think what he really wanted (understandably) was to be surrounded by as many of their old friends and all those family members he was so close to and had desperately missed during all those Houston years.  Both of my brothers were there for that.  

My dad died two years later.  There was some tension between me and my brothers after that.  Death is always a hard thing to manage in a family, especially when there are unmet expectations, and it turns out we each had our own long list of those.  Months and then years have gone by without a lot of communication.  Even without the disappointments and frustrations of a difficult situation, though, I had spent a lot of years away from my brothers and all those California relatives.  My grandmothers had long since passed away, and without my parents to be the bridge, I really had no idea (and honestly, not much desire) to foster a relationship with these people that I hardly knew in adulthood.  

But the awesome thing about throwing yourself into family history is that it awakens that spirit of Elijah in weird and unexpected ways.  Opportunities for family connections, kinship and unity, and the desire to build bridges where there haven't been any for a long time all of a sudden present themselves. Over the past few months, as I've become a genealogy hermit, I've also become intimately familiar with the names, dates and places pertaining to my ancestors.  I know exactly which person belongs to which of my parents and whether they are from my birth line or my adopted line.  I've managed to accumulate a vast amount of detail about the lives of hundreds of people I never even knew.  And sometime last month Craig pointed out the irony of that.  "Isn't it crazy that you go to such great lengths and spend hours searching for connections with people who have already passed away and yet you make no effort at all with the ones you already know, and who aren't that difficult to find?  Oh and by the way, when we're in Tucson over spring break, you'll only be five hours from San Diego." 

Don't think that I jumped at that opportunity with excitement and enthusiasm.  I might have been overcome with the spirit of Elijah a number of times since January, and I might have felt the truth in Craig's mini lecture, but I'm still me and the thought of discomfort of any kind always makes me cringe.  And nearly everything about this trip was going to be potentially difficult, uncomfortable or awkward.  

There was procrastination.  There were tears...lots of them.  There was debilitating fear more than once in the 24 hours before I left for San Diego when reality hit and I thought there was no way I could actually do this thing. 

But I did it anyway.  

Sometimes along the way, I had to talk myself into just surviving through 5 minutes at a time, like when we tried to find our hotel in the middle of downtown San Diego in the dark and I turned the wrong way down a one-way street, or like when I realized the hotel parking garage looked a whole lot like the one in that recurring nightmare I always have, or like when I had to cross the Coronado Bridge so my kids could see the beach on the other side, or like when I walked into Aunt Mary's house for the first time in way too many years. 

But, do you know what I learned after less than 24 hours in California?

Once you get through the first 30 seconds of a hard thing and you realize that you haven't died, the rest of the minutes that follow get progressively easier. 

Even the smallest effort with people, especially family, makes a HUGE impact. 
the kids with my brother, Darrell and his wife, Marilyn
and this one was the best...
I thought these people were gone.  Like, I thought I was going to California to try to rekindle some tiny little dying embers of a handful of forgotten relationships.  I thought there might be confrontations or at the very least, apathy.  But it was nothing like that.  The kids and I felt nothing but warmth, kindness, generosity, and genuine interest and concern.  Every single person we visited was just like I remembered them when I was a little girl.  These people weren't gone.  They had never been gone.  I was the one that had been gone all those years.  They were right there in San Diego where they had always been.  Not mad at me or frustrated or disappointed that I hadn't done more to keep in touch, just happy that I drove five hours to sit in their living room with three of my kids and a giant box of old pictures.  
my dad's cousins, Pat and Jan
Pat and her husband, Kenny
Aunt Mary's back porch in Spring Valley, CA
Maybe sometimes the people we think are gone forever haven't actually gone anywhere at all. They're just right there where we left them, living their lives, not worrying about all the stuff we think they're worried about, not panicking about the future, not stressed out about the state of their relationships with us, just consistently and reliably staying the course and moving forward.  And hopefully, at some point in the future, when we stop flitting about the country in constant motion, and when we stop worrying and over-thinking everything long enough to be still and cross paths with them again, we'll be able to see and hear things the way they actually were and the way they actually are and not the way our heads have distorted them. 

I'm grateful for connections made on this trip and for bridges fortified.  I'm grateful for questions answered and challenges faced.  I'm grateful for three kids who were completely and totally supportive of all the weird things I needed to do this week.  And I'm grateful for a little more clarity than I had last week.  The spirit of Elijah covers so much more than I ever thought possible. 

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