“Something amazing happens when we surrender and just love. We melt into another world, a realm of power already within us. The world changes when we change. The world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world.” ~ Marianne Williamson
I spent last week in Maui with my mother, my younger brother, my sister-in-law, and their twin boys. From the comfort of our lanai, we whale watched over breakfast. The beach was 25 feet away. We saw whole pods of whales swimming along the edge of the horizon, and midway between Maui and Molokai. Steam from their blow holes blasted above the edge of the surf. Sometimes, a tail would smack the water and the sea would plume around it. Other times, they tossed their whole bodies up out of the water and then fell back into the sea. The inlet between Maui and Molokai is their yearly breeding ground. They are protected there and come every year to give birth to their young. Some mornings small groups of tourists were out on the water in canoes, sitting still, waiting for the whales to approach. It is illegal to approach them, but many are apparently curious about human beings and will come up right next to the boats on the water.
On one particularly stormy day, a huge sea turtle swam in the tides not ten feet from shore. We could see his flipper rise about the rough surf, and occasionally his head would pop up, drink in the wet air, and then return to the sea to search for the small fish he was feeding on. It thrilled my mom, in particular, to see a turtle close up. According to Native American lore, turtles are the spirit keepers of the earth. They signal both death and rebirth.
Twenty-nine years ago when I last visited Maui, it was more desolate than it is now. There are still great swaths of it that are undeveloped or covered in sugarcane fields, but the intervening decades have brought strip malls and grocery stores and an endless supply of goods that a tourist economy requires. Churches, resorts, hotels, condos, and golf courses dot the landscape. It is only when one drives into the heart of the island that you get a sense of the solitary beauty that I remember.
On Monday — the twins’ third birthday — we drove the Hāna Highway from Kahului to Hana. Although only about 50 miles long, it is full of curves and switchbacks, and it narrows to one lane repeatedly, so it is imperative that drivers exercise not only caution, but also integrity and good manners. There is no cell service for much of the area. There are also no gas stations, and food is available only from roadside stands along the route. The scenery, however, is astonishingly lovely: African Flame/Tulip trees (or “squirt trees,” as they are called by the locals), bamboo, banyans, palms, rainbow eucalyptus, and many more. The steep ravines conceal waterfalls. Many stream beds have black lava stones lining their banks. There’s birdsong mixed with the distant sound of the ocean far below the road. We stopped once at an overlook where feral cats live, and then later at an ocean side state park. While there, we had coffee and ate warm pork sandwiches and banana bread. As we headed into the final leg of the trip up, one driver decided he was in a hurry and ran through a yield sign at a place where the road narrows to one lane. My brother had to hit the brakes hard. It startled one of the twins, and just a few minutes later he got motion sickness and vomited all over the car.
His mother was right beside him as it happened and she flew into fierce-Momma-mode, wiping him down, cleaning off his car seat, changing his clothes and diaper, and handing him back to his grandmother, wrapped in a towel. My brother shook out the mess onto the roadside, and bagged up the dirty towels, throwing them into the back of the mini-van. Within minutes, we were back on the road, his tears dried, laughing over his statement, “Mommy, I want my hot dog back!” (He’d had a hot dog for lunch.) His mother stroked his face with such tenderness, “Oh, baby. Your hot dog is gone. Remember? You threw up. We left it at the side of the road.”
We got to Hana and spent an hour or so watching the boys play in the surf. Then we reloaded the car and made the return trip. (The road up and back takes five hours if you don’t stop.) By the time we got back to the hotel, it was nearly 8 PM. We had dinner and then a beautiful red velvet birthday cake with a candle shaped like a “3” on top.
“Whose birthday is it?”
“It’s my birthday!” T said bursting into gales of laughter.
“Mine!” M said, giggling.
We sang “Happy Birthday” to them, their faces glowing in the candlelight. Both scraped all the frosting off and ate it first. Then they munched on cake.
I haven’t spent a lot of time with my nephews since I live and work 1,500 miles away from them. This was only the second time we’ve met. It delights me to see how curious and bright and hilarious they are. I found myself in tears, watching them giggle and play with their parents. The twins arrived late in my brother and his wife’s life. That night I saw the fierce, beautiful joy they felt in each others’ presence.
Despite the fact that I don’t really know my younger brother, I do love him. I admire his tenacity and his devotion to this family he built from scratch. I left home when he was 16 and I was 18. For most of the past thirty-five years, I’ve lived in cities far away from him. He’s successful and caustically funny. He’s married to a woman who loves him deeply.
But essentially, we’re strangers. We don’t talk. He doesn’t share his “inner life” with me.
He spent a week with me and never asked me about my life. Nothing. He doesn’t know how hard I work. He has no idea that I routinely work 60 hours a week, that I grade thousands of papers, teach my classes, present at conferences, and write and edit on the side. He’s never even read anything I’ve published. His knowledge of my life is minimal, at best. I’ve always felt judged by him, as though I needed his approval or I had to measure up to his standards. And, admittedly, I have judged him for falling short in my eyes.
But I realized on this trip, that’s OK. I realized that we do the best we can. I realized how imperfect our family’s life has been, but how right it has been, too.
The Tenderness of Home
I came home to a house full of ecstatic pets, a riot of weeds in my backyard, and the deep blessing of my friendship with J, who took care of the furlets while I was gone. She also bought me several things while I was away: cat and dog food, toilet paper, laundry soap, a good knife, and ink for my printer. I’ve been treasure hunting ever since I got home. I open a drawer and there’s another surprise. Lids for the canned dog food. A meat tenderizer. A bath mat.
It is one of the nicest things that anyone’s ever done for me. I feel so grateful and blessed and loved.
She even enlisted her husband to weed my front yard. (Yes. She is a rockstar!)
I woke up this morning with a little black cat purring furiously in my ear, kneading my hair, needling my scalp with his claws. My dog was stretched out next to me. Three other cats perched on various pieces of furniture, waiting for me to awaken. I’ve built a life I am proud of, a life that is full of love and tenderness, too.
Home. It’s good to be home.
© 2013 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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