At first my family was everything. Then they were my everyday. Then they were my identity. Then they were something I needed to break free of. I was compelled to leave and couldn’t. I was fifteen or sixteen and temperament and hormones conspired to convince me I wasn’t happy, that it was an awful place and that I MUST get out of there to become whom I was meant to be. Its a very harsh, but from what I can tell a fairly common sentiment at that age when you think you know everything. On this energy I catapulted out of the cradle of my life and found a big, amazing world and I’m so happy that I did. Because had I not I would never have been able to see how wonderful a world I had been born to.
I grew up amidst the apple orchards, corn fields and rust belt industrial hubs of western New York. Brockport, New York, to be specific. It’s an area that is occasionally mistaken for belonging to the northeast, but as a matter of reality its the Midwest. Much more in common with Cleveland than with New York or Boston. I love the place, I miss the place and I imagine I always will. It was a beautiful place to grow up, and a cold one. Not many people would think of North Jersey as more hospitable in winter, but EVERYONE from where I’m from would. In fact it gives me a palpable sense of superiority every winter when locals complain about anything more than a dusting of snow and how hard it is to drive. Please. I was born in November and took my drivers test in January in Brockport, NY amidst copious amounts of lake effect snow.
From time to time I would have the occasion to bring people back home to Brockport. Often it was folks that worked at the lodge with me while I was in college. They were usually in their early twenties like me, and from other countries. From my perspective it was a chance to have worlds collide, friends from home hanging out with my new found friends from far and wide. We would go to bars, drink in apartments and socialize like young people the world over do. During the days we’d look for things to do. Being me and being in my early 20’s and breaking free of my home at that time I had a generally negative view of my region of the world and a specifically negative outlook on the town I was from. Shamefully now, I was embarrassed most of my home and my family. Bringing strangers from strange lands to visit changed that for me. Rather it gave me a fresh perspective on what was in fact the great good fortune of a charmed life.
The broad, vast, open sky and miles and miles of beautifully worked farmland was visual white noise for me by the time I left Brockport. I would warn folks of the sea-level, flat monotony of the region. It was something entirely different to them. Taking them to see Hamlin Beach on Lake Ontario, the only thing I’d ever considered a lake, and to have them point out the obvious to me, who was so used to this sight as to think it nothing, that it was in fact hardly distinguishable from an ocean and breathtaking not only in its scope but also in it’s unexpected beauty was paradigm changing. To bring them to Niagara falls and see there mouths agape, speechless at its awesome grandeur made me reassess this thing I’d so long taken for granted. I’m from a place, not nowhere. That place is unique and vast and beautiful. It’s a thing I was certain it was not, it was gorgeous. It took looking through others gobsmacked eyes to realize what it was I’d been looking at all those years. While my head was down lamenting the tediousness of flat topography the eyes of my friends, eyes from the world over looked up and marveled at a sky they never imagined could be so enormous and vast and filled with so many stars.
In high school all that I was embarrassed me. I was popular and a jock and not a kid that was picked on or mocked. I’ve come to find that many of the young men I grew up with who were similarly fortunate have never stopped longing for that time. I was not reveling in it and felt little more than relief that my older years turned out far better than my younger years suggested they might be. I was uncomfortable in my role. I was certain that I needed to get away from all I was to be what I wanted to be. And this was indeed true. Becoming an adult is an act of contrivance and one that only made sense after the job at hand was completed. An inkling snuck in at the edges of my youthful anger and self-righteousness that I was in fact from a truly special family. But I needed the fuel of thinking I had something to run from, something that would always forgive me and accept me after my return, in order to motivate me out of the local bars and past a comfortable but unchallenged existence. For me that was getting away from the ‘crazies’ that were incontrovertibly ‘my tribe’, and trying to find another tribe to call my own. And I did. At The Lodge. An experience that has propelled me directly to where I sit in life now. And it allowed space for me to be curious and envious and striving and lazy and ponderous and annoying and loved. Thank god I went.
A funny thing started to happen. As I met and learned of the private lives of eccentrics and strivers and stoners and journeyers I learned that I am just like everyone else. All the things I felt shamefulness embarrassment about were in fact precisely what made me able to relate to these free thinkers, adventurers and truly revolutionary spirits who both attended the lodge and provided stewardship to the place. I started to feel like there might be a day when I’d feel fully comfortable in my skin and harmonious with my people. I started bringing the world to my family and was afforded the opportunity to see them through others eyes. I came to realize that I had perceived them so ungenerously. My family is what was and remains the most amazing gift my life has provided for me. They are generous and kind and thoughtful. They are fierce and funny and incredibly smart. They keep you sharp and keep you warm and keep you laughing and with the right mix at the right time, they keep the party going, although a laid back party with smart jokes and warm smiles.
Now that I’ve seen a few things, not a ton, but some, I know their was no better place on the planet to have grown up. I’ve met some people and had some victories and some struggles and in the end I am certain my big, crazy, funny, talented and thoughtful family is the only reason I am any of the good things I may be. There is no doubt in my mind that I was exactly where I was meant to be, exactly when I was meant to be there and I will look back for whatever time I have left with nothing but generosity and appreciation for the wonderful family I was born into.
Around dusk for all the months of the year that could support them, a flock of ten thousand birds would populate our woods when i was growing up. While you might have been able to predict their movements had you tried, we never did. We preferred to be amazed and lost in wonder when each evening the bird to bird chatter would escalate. The tweets were loud and getting louder until they enveloped you, just as the woods themselves held our home on three sides snugly. Then suddenly, seemingly at once and accompanied by such a clatter as it would shock you and make your heart skip a beat or two, all ten thousand blackbirds would leave their ten thousand perches. They would cause such commotion that a split second of instinctive fear would hit you, and just as quickly it would dissipate as you’d watch these small groups of birds, little families as it were, fly instantly in formations, twisting and diving and moving like you imagine a double helix would. A wafting sheet of birds that would flip top to bottom and left to right before your eyes but without your notice of the moment it changed, perhaps a hundred families of birds averting each other, twisting and turning in a hundred different patterns all seeking unison in their small group and trying to find the pattern of the whole. Before long almost all of the flocks would start to rise higher and higher, until they all were of a single unit, evacuating for the evening to wherever it was they spent their nights. It was majestic and awe inspiring.
Which brings me to my children. It is once again time for me to thank them. If life lasts long enough and I am able to keep perspective through the years when they’re prone to feelings of disdain in order to fully gather themselves and find independence from their family, from us, we’ll be delighted to meet them on the other side, having hopefully been the same rocks that our parents have been for us. And perhaps they’ll find a fraction of the reverence I know hold for my parents and Karen holds for hers. If they do we will graciously receive any kind words and sentiments they may share with us. I’ve learned that to refuse such things, even if meant to be an expression of humility, is ungracious. But I’ll know that the winner in the game of ‘who-got-more-from-the-relationship’ (a silly quantification within the confines of a loving family, but one that, when taken in aggregate, will lead to an inevitable realization) will be me.
One of the greatest gifts they’ve given has come in the form of a lesson much like these earlier lessons about my family and my origins. It took seeing them in a broader picture at some point, seeing them in the context of a wider world, for me to appreciate the unique and special nature of my family. How much of a gift it is to have them. It took leaving where I was from, finding something new to call mine, and returning home to appreciate where I was from. So to has it taken me having kids, caring for them, teaching them and learning from them to truly appreciate what a precious and fragile and amazing gift this all is. And not just in some getting-in-touch-with-my-emotional-self-and-accepting-the-finite-and-fickle-nature-of-life kind of way, either. No, more in the eyes widening when you see a hallway that seems to go on forever when you’ve just learned to walk kind of way. In the way that seeing the world from atop a mountain you’ve just climbed can. In the way a beautiful piece of art or music can give you a better understanding of the world and all it’s mystical connectedness. In a way that makes you realize in an instant that ALL OF THIS is magic and miraculous and not to be missed.