Last week, my kids and I had our annual “Favorite Week of the Year” trip to the lake to hang out with my wonderful family. It was fantastic, as always, but this time I definitely felt traces of sadness and loss coloring my usual lake-week serenity and happiness. These uninvited feelings came from a prospect that I have been denying for years and years: that we may have finally reached the end of our days at the family cabin.
When I was a kid, two of my great-uncles and aunts had cabins on the clearest, most magnificent lake I knew. It was a lake big enough to get lost on, but small enough to be found again. I would visit them every Summer and have a blast: swimming, waterskiing, fishing for “sunnies,” tubing, and riding a little motorbike in the forest land across the road. It was heavenly. Then, one year in elementary school, in a move that would come to shape my family’s history in so many happy ways, my Grandma and Grandpa bought an empty lot on the same lake, uniting my sweet Grandma with her two sisters.
My Grandpa, a carpenter by trade, did the most amazing thing that Summer: he had all of his grandkids help him build the little garage/cabin that would forever be the home base of the place, remaining an essential structure even as a bigger “real house” was added some years later. We all had hammers and nails and followed my Grandpa’s designs, building walls and rafters where there had been nothing. We slept in tents and campers until we got the roof done, and we used the neighbor’s outhouse until we got plumbing. When it got too hot, we dove off the little dock and had a swim, then got back to work.
What made this such a cool thing that my Grandpa did was not his ingenious use of child labor at the mere cost of a few cans of Mello Yello, but rather that we all grew up to believe that we had a stake in the place. It was ours. We built it.
There is no better way to build a sense of ownership in a place than to build it yourself. I feel it these days with my vegetable garden: I till the soil, plant the seeds, water, and weed, so that when it is time to harvest, I feel a genuine pride in it. It’s my space.
I remember the first place I ever felt belonged to me: it was my house that I grew up in.
We moved to town the Summer before I turned four and rented a place while ours was being built. I didn’t get to hammer any nails in the original building, but I remember being in it before the carpet and paint and fixtures were installed, when it was just bare wood and concrete. I remember riding on the back of our three-wheeler dragging a grate all around the property to remove the rocks from the dirt so we could plant grass. I remember planting the gardens, mowing the grass when it came up, and building a fort under the tree-house my Dad made for us. Inside, I remember owning every nook and cranny of that place when it was finished. That sense of HOME has never left me there, even after 41 years. Every visit rekindles it.
So it is with the family lake cabin, the second place that felt like home to me. Those nails and boards that I pounded made it so, and each Summer affirms it. Home is where the heart is, and mine is certainly there. Looking back at my journal entries there—both from this past week and from all of the other weeks I have spent there over the years—it is plain how much peace and contentment I feel there. How truly home I feel.
This is exactly why it was so unusual to have my normal flow of serene gratitude tinged with a sense of sadness and loss during last week’s visit.
As I was unpacking my bags from the car and loading up the refrigerator for the week, my Mom started talking about how her brother and his wife were interested in selling their share of the cabin (my Grandpa died a few years ago, moving ownership down a generation to my Mom and her brother). She mentioned how none of the “kids” in my generation—my siblings and cousins—were likely to ever be able or willing to own the cabin outright and that now might be the best time to sell it and buy a place of her own with my Dad.
As if my mind wasn’t reeling enough from this news, she even floated the idea that my Dad could even consider selling my childhood home and moving out of my hometown. Nothing definitive, but just the possibility of these developments suddenly loosed the ideas out into the world and sent them rampaging through my heart and mind. It was A LOT to process.
I have told you before that I am deeply nostalgic. While my mind normally is present-focused and also tends to be get quite excited about all of the wonderful things that are upcoming for me, there is also something I just love about memories. Looking at old photos, reading old journals, chatting with friends or siblings about the old days—these things are truly delightful to me. I have never been hung up in the past and or one to hold onto a lot of regret, but I dearly love to reminisce.
My past means a lot to me. That is why I love the old photos and journals. It is also why I so cherish my visits to the lake cabin and the home that I grew up in. So, while I was basking in the peaceful beauty and family fun of the lake last week, in my quiet moments, I couldn’t help but mull the prospect of it being the last time. Maybe I wouldn’t be back to the cabin next Summer. Maybe I wouldn’t be going back to my childhood home at Christmas. Or ever.
It is hard to imagine, actually. These places have always been with me, always been a part of me. They are central characters in my life story. It is hard to see how the story goes without them in it. It makes me sad to try.
What I realize, though, is that this is simply How Life Goes. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t always seem fair. It’s messier than you want it to be. It breaks your heart sometimes. That is all part of the deal. The longer I live, the more I understand that. I am still working on accepting it, but I am at least starting to understand it. It’s called “growing up”, I suppose.
And though the kid in me wants these safe havens to remain frozen in time and available to me for visits forever and ever—just like it wants my parents to be around and healthy forever and ever—the grown-up in me knows that it cannot be so. He even knows that it should not be so. The grown-up knows that it is time for my parents to get a cabin that suits them—not one that suited my Grandpa—if they want a cabin, and to sell my childhood home when they decide they don’t want to be there anymore, regardless of how many memories they (or I) have there. The grown-up knows how to do what is necessary, even when it isn’t easy.
I suppose what I am learning in this little attempt to be an adult is that the better your life has been and the fonder the memories, the tougher it is going to be to let it all go as the years require. The people, the places, the hobbies, the adventures, the passions. The best that I can hope is that whenever I am forced to say goodbye to one, there is a good alternative waiting for me.
It makes me cry a little bit now, though, thinking of all those difficult decisions and moments of surrender ahead of me. Growing up is hard! Necessary, I suppose, but hard. I think the way to go, though, is to live a rich, love-filled life so that every last one of these necessary goodbyes is a tough one, even when you are moving onto something that will in time become amazing. That is how I plan to do my growing up.
How about you? What things have been most difficult for you to let go of as you have aged? Open up your journal and take a mental walk through your transitions away from things that have always been there for you. How do you handle letting go and moving on? Which things have you definitely said goodbye to so far, whether by force or by choice? Who are the people you have intentionally moved on from? How difficult was that? Who are the people who have been taken from you along the way? How accepting have you been with that? Do you still hold onto bitterness about the unfairness of any of those losses? Do you have passions or enjoyments that you have had to let go of? How about the places that always felt like home to you? Do you have some, like my cabin and childhood home, that you have counted on since you were a kid? Which homes have you had to let go of? Did you get to choose, or was it forced upon you by circumstance? How have you handled it? Did you ever go back to see it, even though it wasn’t “yours” anymore? If my parents ever sell their house—my childhood home—I don’t foresee a reason that I would ever return to my hometown, even though I would miss the house terribly. Would you? What is the one place in your life right now that you will most struggle with letting go of when the time comes? What is so special about it? What are your favorite memories from that place? Are you good at holding them in your heart? Is that enough? I hope you will tell me that it is, because I know I will struggle with the losses that are in my future. Leave me a reply and let me know: Which losses make growing up the hardest?
Maximize the Love,
P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please take the time to share it. I think more people need to be reminded to cherish their little corners of the world.