There is something about the silence of an empty house that is so comforting it is almost not empty at all. When the voices have left the building, the last car door has slammed and the final cup of tea has been consumed, the hulk of house, the carcass seems to breathe a sigh of relief.
On this trip, I was the last to leave the rental house of the girlie week we just enjoyed on the East Coast of England, where I was born. We have been friends for a range of decades, truthfully most of our lives, and there is always much to catch up on without the distractions of family around us.
My friend and I noted that we all have our “things.” And this week was certainly no different in that regard. The friend who had organized the house back in 2020 when we couldn’t come and then again in 2021 when we still couldn’t come, had life challenges of her own to deal with — an unwell mother and a husband fresh from surgery — so her visit to the group was brief and not the full week we had planned. Others were grieving a parent and didn’t want to stay in the bustle of the communal house; another had her son with her for much of the week; so it wasn’t quite the carefree dynamic of years past.
As the beachcomber of the group, I had been searching all week for the perfect low tide, the magic crossroads between low tide and sunshine that eluded me. Normally I can grab at least one successful slice of time to pursue that perfect storm. But this time it always seemed to be high tide that awaited me. It became a joke of the group — “Yep, high tide again….”
Then, my nautical friend explained to me that there were times when the difference between high and low tides are less marked. I was consequently seeking something that didn’t exist. So, I enjoyed the partially high tide and the glinty sun rays we were afforded in glass half-full fashion. Even the cold rainy day had her own special glory.
There was a more somber quality to the gathering this time around, a feeing perhaps that we won’t be doing it like this again; perhaps we will gather in an easier format in the future with no deposits and money gatherings required and no cleanup on the back end. Perhaps we will stay in the sedate hotel where we enjoyed a drink or two this visit in traditional style.
Maybe we will make our own bookings the next time around and gather for nice meals or drinks at the well-polished bar, retreating to our private rooms for much-needed naps. Life is always changing, is it not, never mind the meeting places for old friends and the inventory of who shows up to the table.
We are older now; we all seem to have our share of aches and pains to contend with and the larger trials of life concertina as if there is to be little to no peace — still taking care of aged parents in some cases, or unwell husbands, still trying to help our young folk out the door in other situations, or finding solace for our young ones that struggle with the world. Others in our group were mourning the passing of loved ones and traversing tricky pathways the best we can.
But with our age comes gratitude for the things we still do have, the gifts of free time and friendship, the ability to work in mobile form and still check on our work life at home while blissfully combing for pebbles on a beach elsewhere, picking up plastic from the beach — my new thing — and having good catch-ups with fabulous people. When you have old friends, they never stop being old friends.
There is an easy lilt to the companionship and the banter that speaks loudly of the place in life that you currently find yourself. The histories are meshed no matter the human tides that come and go. I’ll keep the wrinkles and the belly fat for the compassion and the gratitude I feel I now possess at this stage in my journey. These are lifetime gifts that not all get to enjoy.
As the house heaved a sigh of relief and I locked the door for the last time, I contemplated all my good fortune to still have lovely people in my life and blessings all around me of health, hearth and home. Maybe that is another reason to go away, so that you can return to the family house restored with thankfulness for your lot and ready to tackle the work of home with a renewed vigor.
These days I travel a lot. I am fortunate to be able to balance my life in this way, since I have a wonderful work partner on the ground and a home partner on the ranch. I need to be able to visit my father and sister more overseas and simultaneously keep a tab on my friends on the same land mass. That’s the reality of my world.
The year 2020 reminded me in a harsh way that free travel across the globe is not guaranteed and, with the world in flux again, friends of mine from Russia have been forced away from a country where they have resided for two decades and made to rethink their lives entirely.
I did miss the low tides on this visit, the tranquility of zoning out in my own world of citrines and cornelians and agates on yellow sands with sparkly light, dreaming of an amber haul that will likely never show. But I loved it just the same. I adored the nuances of how we have altered since the last gathering, but we are still us and always will be.
I still found a lot of treasure I need to do something with this time around, I collected bags full of plastics from the shoreline and I had meaningful exchanges with beloved souls. We made it into the North Sea of my childhood without incident and shared copious cups of cha and good cheer. Never mind the seagulls were whizz bombing overhead (yes, they got me) and stealing sandwiches (yes, they got mine); those events just gave us fodder for giggles.
With the high and low tides of life, we were yet again well met on the East Coast of England. I look forward to the next adventure.