Sunday, September 05, 2010

Standing on the Ground

Labor Day weekend has brought the very last days of summer and it has me panicked. Since 1946, when my grandparents built a one-season cottage on the shores of Lake Michigan, my family has been blessed to spend summer months out of the city and suburbs of Chicago. Over the years repairs and home improvements have occurred, but mostly we all still live and move and have our being in the bones of this old house.

When my grandparents built the cottage they built it for themselves and their two daughters. Now the cottage makes room for a set of grandparents, my family, and the families of my two brothers. We squeeze in when we can cooking in the tiny galley kitchen, lining up outside the one functioning bathroom, and forever negotiating who is sleeping where.

And for the most part we love it. We all keep coming back summer after summer.

I suppose some people have their ancestral land – a village in Germany where they can trace back generations. However, I am a true American mutt. A blend of English, Dutch, German, French. . .I have no idea where everyone came from besides central Indiana. The cottage has become, in a quirky way, our ancestral home.

My grandfather, Strat, took his last breath in this old building. He was having dinner at the cottage next door with lifelong friends. The story goes he finished his supper and was offered dessert. He declined saying to my grandmother, “Margie, it is time to go home.” He walked the short trail through the dunegrass to our cottage, and as my grandmother helped him to bed, he sneezed and he died. Strat had been sick with cancer. It seems his body gave one last ditch effort to get rid of it with the sneeze and then he did indeed go home.

My grandmother swam in Lake Michigan almost every day of every summer until she was in her late 80’s. She would drag an old black inner tube down the dune with a rope and an anchor attached to it. She would bob on the waves of Lake Michigan tucked in her tube all day. When she passed away at the age of 93 we had a family reunion and a service. My mother and aunt spread Gramma Margie’s ashes on the shore and in the waves of Lake Michigan.

I’m 40 years old. My three kids now run the dunes freely and swim and surf all day in the white caps. While I grew up and played with second generation cottagers, my kids now are growing up with third generation. Everyone knows each other and which kid goes with which family. This quirky ancestral land, this uncommon small town that gathers for three months every year, this blessed and coveted sense of community and belonging is mine.

And it is coming to an end for this summer. Re-entry back into suburbia is hard. I find myself irritated and distracted. Crabby and ungrateful. I don’t want to be boxed in by houses and cement. My soul balks and makes it known that it misses nature and sand and water and sunsets.

So, how to combat this suburbia discontentment? I believe it is a spiritual discipline to keep discontentment and depression at bay. I am blessed. It seems selfish and immature to complain to God about living in a safe, beautiful, and prosperous suburban town. As I have been preparing myself to brace for a long winter in suburbia I have been struggling with this creeping discontentment.

I think I got a clue today. In West Michigan my radio choices are somewhat limited and while driving a tried and true Eagles tune began to play…I got a peaceful, easy feeling...and I know you won’t let me down…cuz I’m already standing on the ground.

Most summer nights I stand at the shore, on the ground, and watch the sunset. Sunset watching was always an event with my grandparents. One simply did not miss the sunset. A bowl of vanilla ice cream with some kind of fruit on top was also usually a requirement.

Tonight is my last sunset of the summer. I don’t have ice cream. I don’t have my grandparents. My kids are running around somewhere. But still I watch as the colors take over the sky and I hear the waves crash. I can’t take it all with me, yet tonight I understand I don’t have to leave here and lose my inner grounding. I can hold this with me until next summer. Cuz I’m still here. Still standing on the ground.

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