A recent prompt by a dear one on Instagram had me reflecting on family vacations… I know we took them, but my memories are blurred by sunshine and warmth and this pervasive feeling of ease mostly cultivated (I have since learned) by my mother. Her capacity to promote the best experience for us, in spite of the hell she may have been experiencing in the moment, was profound.
I remember getting to sit on the tailgate as we rolled into the Florida Keys… back then cars were big and traffic was slow. Rules were simple: do what our parents said to be safe, because your parents could keep you safe. Keep your legs out from under the tailgate so they don’t get smashed. Don’t play with matches (I did, and got in BIG trouble). Get home before the streetlights are on. Don’t cuss. And don’t chew gum.
I hear my older sister telling me how lucky we were to be in a place where it’s still light out at 8:30pm or to remember that we were still getting the strength of 2pm rays at 3pm and to re-apply the sunscreen.
Boats, bikinis, beers…
Hawaiian tropic suntan oil (be safe with SPF 5!). Beers were for the adults. Adults shared their beers with kids to wash away germs if we scraped our knee or cut our foot on a barnacle. Fires on the beach for warming up, mellowing out, and occasionally, for cooking.
When we were kicked out of the lake house on the hottest days, bored, to walk along, sing, bat down love bugs and stomp on them. Being able to boast of skiing on a lake of glass, before the first ripple of another boat’s wake hit the surface. Now knowing, as an adult, how awesome it must have felt to my best friend’s dad when he was able to get that ski in before heading back to the office on Monday.
The instantaneous joy of witnessing a moment in time develop in front of your eyes, a memory quickly set, not as easily forgotten. My niece sent me a book recently that, on a larger scale, discussed our disappearing landscapes, habitats, environments, and our homes. In it the author discussed the coining of a new word. This new word my niece and I so easily understood, even as we sit face to face and generations apart. Solastalgia: the homesickness you have when you are still at home (a term coined by Australian philosopher and professor of sustainability, Glenn Albrecht).
I see how the expanse of my life fits into the compression of my niece’s. How I can long for a time or feeling from 30 years ago and she feels that same sensation, just as deeply, about a time just 5 or 7 years before in her own short time on earth. I see how we have all experienced so much in a few or loads of years that give us all the same history. And I see how we deny each other the respect of acknowledging that shared experience.
There is a reason our parents or the people who love and care for us feel misery when we can’t hear them warn of what we are stepping into. They know where we’ve come from, where our trajectory might inevitably lead and the pain or joy we might eventually feel. Theirs is a solastalgia not only for a time and place long gone, but for an experience or opportunity since passed, never to be seen, experienced or shared by another, again.
The longing you sometimes feel is acute. It is real in that moment and it might give way to a feeling of anger, frustration or pain. When you find yourself in this experience, I offer this:
Take a deep breath in, and a long, soft gaze towards the horizon. See how the light plays on the surfaces that surround you and from within the beings that are around you. Take in the moment with your mind, without that piece of technology in your hand, and hold it in your heart.
Then let it all go before it’s gone. Breathe it out, and breathe in, start over, again.