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Sunset over Bald Head Island marsh rivers

My readers with military connections will appreciate (or at least recognize) the acronym in my title. ‘AAR’ means After Action Report. Admittedly it’s a rather dull title. It’s uncreative and systematic sounding, especially considering what I am aiming for in writing this post; that is, not let the beauty of my vacation week (nearly two weeks ago) slip through my fingers or turn to chaff by what is the grinding machine of my every day.
As soon as school let out for the summer our family went on vacation. I had made a strong pronouncement in the height of said school year, proclaiming my extreme need for a beach vacation this summer. I didn’t care what else we did or didn’t do. All I knew (and still know) is I needed one week of my 2018 to be unstructured, unhurried, unharried…in other words: not soul sucking (sound a tad dramatic? So be it.). Our last several family trips have been of the go-see-do variety. And while I am the ultimate lover of go-see-do vacations (for evidence, read my recent post on visiting NYC), doing go-see-do with five teenagers is actually no vacation at all.
Just sayin’.
We ended up on Bald Head Island for our vacation week. It is an island located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. The only way to access the island is via boat—about 20 minutes off the coast of Southport, NC. There are no cars allowed on the island other than authorized commercial vehicles and those are kept at a minimum. The only motorized option for islanders is golf cart.

“Learn old things in new ways.”  –Vince Oliveri

It was a phrase my son’s class advisor, Mr. Oliveri, used during a recent charge to their rising-senior class (yes, I have another senior this upcoming school year). He encouraged the students to make the most of their senior year by keeping their hearts and minds open to two things: learning new things in old ways and learning old things in new ways.
It was this second part of his charge—learning old things in new ways–that continually resurfaced during my vacation week.


An old boat house still offers insight to the people and place of Bald Head Island

I was reminded of the majestic–and meticulous—nature of creation. Watching the tide bubble into the salt marsh inlet behind our house. Observing the Great Egret take off in flight. The sunset over the inter-coastal waters. The whelk casing: a long, coiled, translucent skin-like sac filled with baby whelks, each one the size of a large grain of rice and perfectly formed, looking exactly like its adult version. The power of even four-foot waves (a pittance compared to what they could have been) as we approached open ocean in our boat, or the pull of the tide as I paddled hard against it on my stand-up paddle board.

Great Egret taking flight

Then there was hearing my kids cut up with one another during nightly games of Monopoly or poker; seeing their teenager-selves in a way I don’t often recognize or appreciate. It reminded me of when they were in their terrible twos (or threes…or fours…) and out of nowhere, between bouts of obstinance, they would surprise me with a hug and wet kisses on my leg or a spontaneous, “I love you, Mommy,” said like an exhale, a part of their own breath.
I was reminded that all life wants to thrive and live fully into its unique design—whether the tiny whelk or the alligator meandering up the road or the marsh crabs or my teenagers. What’s more, sometimes that living and striving for fullness collides together with other life working toward the same end.

An osprey couple with their babes. I made this mama very angst (I caught her in full squawk) the closer I paddled to get this shot.

Here in-lies the conflict, the struggle. The interruption of one’s personal song. It’s where life often gets stuck. It’s where I often get stuck, anyway.
But, it could also be an intersection where we create greater harmony—a more beautiful song. Like the brackish waters of the Cape Fear where a multitude of species can only thrive in that particular intersection of fresh and salt waters.

A Tricolored Heron looking for his dinner amongst salt marsh in brackish waters

It’s in this intersection point where we experience grace in abundance. Where we all thrive. But only if we’re willing to look outside ourselves, accept the grace, and commit to the process.
It’s been almost two weeks since my vacation. My husband and I woke up early the next morning and wondered if we’d ever really left the mountains. Was it just a dream? This unhurried, unharried, soul-reviving vacation? My week of learning old things in these new and profound ways?
At least I have the pictures to prove it (and some trinkets, of course). More than this, I have the learning. I have the old remembering in new ways. Given our nation’s current political and cultural climate, I also have plenty of opportunity for living in the grace I’ve recognized fresh once again.
I’m hopeful that in the practice–staying square in the intersection, letting go of myself, committing to the life around me, and accepting the grace freely given–my vacation learning will hold secure within my soul.