You don’t know me yet, I said to him once, as we stood among the cat reeds watching the sun set over the water. This was in the days when the thought of us was still new, before love or forever ever entered our vocabulary.
Then show me, he told me, palms stretched open and eyes pleading. Show me everything there is to know.
There’s the thing of my family, I explained, hesitating, my tongue too thick and clumsy to find the words inside my heart. And the other side of the world.
How do you explain to a person you think you might be beginning to love a thing you’ve loved fiercely your whole life, maybe even before you were born? This is the question I’ve asked myself a hundred times. How do you let a new person in to a community you’ve always held sacred; a community whose key is laughter and tears, and whose gates are sealed with idioms and memories?
Even in writing, I am hesitant to approach the subject of my love for my family. It seems taboo, an injustice, almost, to try to put into words the intertwining of the heart, especially when it goes back generations and then centuries. Avoiding the topic is a defense mechanism, as though if I were to put into written word the importance of my parents, sisters, brother, cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, I would be exposing myself and each of them to harm—even the tightest families are vulnerable and the place where the heart meets the soul is raw, unprotected.
I could not explain these things to him, not with my awkward tongue or misplaced hands. Some things cannot be written, so he had to live them. And he did. As the years passed, he lived the stories, the anecdotes, the hellos and good byes, the tears, the laughter, and always, the missing. With all my extended family in England and my immediate family scattered across the States, there is always someone to miss.
And then, finally, we flipped the calendar to March— six years to the day after we began dating— and we jumped on a plane to visit my family in the place where the stories first came from: the other side of the world, where the sand and the sea converge on all sides.
Two weeks of sunshine, of flowers, of sixty degree weather. Two weeks of fish and chips on the pier, of long walks on the shore and the cliffs, of good pints and unhurried conversation. Of re-remembering there really is no scent as comforting as your grandmother’s living room, and no warmer feeling than being reunited with cousins, discovering your love for them has not waned a bit in the years gone by.
Two weeks of sipping wine as we listened to the stories of my aunts and uncles, stories that have crossed over and mixed in with the versions I heard growing up from my own parents. Two weeks of revisiting: the church where my parents got married, the market where my mother worked, the pub my father told me to go see. Of a chance encounter with the queen that barely held a candle to my grandmother’s reaction to it. Of games and rekindling competitive spirits, of stomachs filled with ice cream and gourmet cheeses. Two weeks of celebrating the life one cousin carries inside her; two weeks of mourning and missing a man dearly loved.
It was two weeks, essentially, of remembering what it is to be part of something, a greater whole. Walking as a unit, while the salty wind sprinkled our faces and landed on our clumsy tongues, words and accents ever present but never a thing of great importance. It is, I imagine, a foretaste of heaven: unhurried walking in the salt and the sun, where the sand and the sea converge.
Thank you for showing me, he told me, as we soared 35,000 feet over Greenland. Thank you for showing me this part of you.
A part of you now, too, I said. I am the sand and you are the sea, and our stories— they are converging on every side.
**Photo Credit: Nigel Genders, Steve Genders, and Mike Fink**