I think all of us have felt unsettled lately, like a general un-anchoring is taking place in each of our lives. The past year or so has been full of change, decisions, and uncertain direction for all of us. Deciding on a college major. Moving. Job searching. Changing a college major. New jobs. New babies. Dissatisfaction with jobs. A major medical diagnosis.
My siblings and I and our significant others find our way to each other on a particularly warm Friday in November. In the endless deserts of California, we don’t speak the restlessness out loud; we don’t mention that we feel the tired ache of a not-yet world. But it hangs there, in the air, and we know it.
This is perhaps one of my favorite things about my family. We’re not that great at speaking these things out loud to each other, and never have been. Truly, we are not the best communicators, and I may be one of the worst. I’m quiet, an introvert with a monkey mind, and I am particularly bad about being mindful about connection. I have a hard time remembering to floss at night, let alone pick up the phone or send a text to stay in touch.
Yet somehow, despite the lack of communication, we find ourselves together, comfortable. We are able to slip back into our sibling camaraderie like you would a pair of worn-in jeans – effortlessly, without the need to suck in or squeeze or reshape into something more desirable. We can just be.
Over the weekend in California, our conversation ranges from philosophical to religious to political to quotes from The Office. We laugh and tease each other. We light campfires and cook piles of bacon and bury each other waist-deep in the sand and fight the ocean currents to chase the waves.
On Saturday, we run in a Tough Mudder – five miles of ten obstacles. I’m nervous at the starting line; I can feel the adrenaline making even my toes shaky. Life has been nothing short of chaotic since I signed up for the race more than four months ago. My lofty plans to be able to do a pull-up before the race have been decimated. My brothers do CrossFit, so I know that I’ll be able to get through the race if I rely on them. But I’m nervous that I’m just going to be part of the obstacle course to them – one more thing to get up, over, and through.
It’s a feeling that has permeated my life recently. I faced a difficult medical diagnosis in the past year, and an even more difficult recovery from the following surgery. I have been needy and insufficient – I started this year not even able to dress myself. I have felt like the great obstacle of 2018, both to myself and to my family and friends.
I’ve found this season particularly lonely. I’m surrounded by people that love me and that I love in return, but I have been trying to find my way out of the murk of recovery back to myself – to my old capabilities and confidence and cheer. When I tell people of my diagnosis, my surgery, my recovery, they don’t know quite how to handle me. I don’t know quite how to handle me. And though the majority of the physical recovery is now behind me, the majority of the emotional recovery still stretches ahead.
The race goes more quickly than we want it to. We are all having a blast. Through muddy pits, over walls, and across hot, rocky slopes, we are smashing the obstacles. We execute our strategies to get through each one flawlessly. And I definitely have to rely on my brothers. But to my surprise and delight, there are moments in which they rely on me. I am not just carried through the course. I do some of the carrying, too.
We pour whiskey into paper Dixie cups in our hotel later that night, raising our makeshift glasses to our accomplishment. We are sunburnt, slightly stiff, and elated. On this day, we have cooked bacon, swam in the ocean, ate fish tacos and cheeseburgers and fish and chips on a rooftop patio, and washed it all down with lots of ice water and chips and salsa.
We have conquered the Tough Mudder. We want to make it a yearly sibling tradition. The camaraderie feels deeper that night. We have come from states apart and set our minds to do this thing together. And indeed we have, while carrying each other through.
Perhaps this is it. We have found that there is still space for us here, amongst our siblings. We have found comfort and rest in each other’s presence. But we have also found that it’s here we are still needed.
This need and comfort and space – it’s expanded. We started as five, a sister and four brothers. Now, in total, we are nine (plus three kids). This camaraderie we share has been extended to the loved ones we’ve brought with us into this family. We’ve all been unsettled recently. But for this weekend, we are relaxed, comfortable with each other.
These are the words Merriam-Webster uses to define the phrase “at home.” For is this not what home is? This place where you can come and simply exist, with many words or few, and find yourself carried and part of the carrying – not one of the obstacles. This place that is constantly expanding its borders to invite new people into the rest and the belonging.
It’s Sunday, and after brunch and more beach time and one last acai bowl, we pack ourselves into our respective cars and begin our journeys homeward. There are questions that must still be answered in all of our lives – great, big, unsettling questions. I still have recovery ahead. But we will always have this space with each other, this home. We will always be needed here.
For is this not family?
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About the Author:
When Jenni isn’t writing, editing, or gulping down the words of another great story, she can be found chasing her toddler, loving on her husband, stretching it out on a yoga mat, or hiking through the dense forests of the Pacific Northwest. Her friendship can always be won with a good cup of coffee, some quality time and deep conversation, or a square of dark chocolate - preferably all three. Learn more here.