“Aunt Katie, I will miss you. I love you. Can you come back tomorrow?” said Eustace as I opened the car door to say good-bye at the train station. Tears welled in my eyes. His tender three year-old heart had been angry all morning, but at the last minute he melted a bit. Finding my shine in Carmel centered on the meaningfulness and challenge of family and friendship. Following Brooklyn, Carmel provided a chance to slow down and consider the essence of what it means to shine. There is a stick-to-it-tiveness to shine. Shine is steel forged by time. Shine is knowing what matters. Shine is a deep breath.
I was visiting my best friend, Tahra, in Carmel. We have been close since we were 14. After many years in and near NYC, she now lives with her husband, George, three year-old son, Eustace George, and two week-old daughter, Benigna Joyce, in a once-upon-a-time-weekend-oasis-turned-commuter-home-wonderfully-friendly place. The tall trees are only upstaged by the small lake and beach that are the natural core of the neighborhood. Each house is unique and boasts an individual character.
Tahra and I have been through more than I can explain. Our friendship is like the jar of sand that I kept as a child. I collected sand and combined the sand together after each trip and put it all together in a jar because I wanted to remember. After a while, separating out individual grains of sand was impossible, it all became one whole of experiences collected, complex, and more beautiful as the sum of many memories. That is our friendship. Our friendship makes me shinier.
I arrived in Carmel on a Monday. I was immediately struck by the smell of the air. Chemists try to replicate that smell by producing scents like “fresh rain” or “mountain breeze.” Tahra picked me up at the train station with Eustace sitting in his car seat in the back. Eustace and I immediately started to bond. His sense of humor is infectious and his eyelashes should be registered on a list warning of lethal cuteness. It was immediately clear he misses nothing. He asks lots of questions. He has his own ideas. He is amazing.
I arrived at Tahra’s house and her mother-in-law, who was visiting from Florida, was holding her daughter Benigna on the couch. Benigna is perfection. She is pure love. She is 5 plus pounds of grace. Holding her is a heart exploding experience. I immediately counted her fingers and toes, and breathed in new baby smell. (New baby smell can be defined as the smell that somehow combines formula, no-tears baby wash, powder, lotion, and baby clothes detergent.) She was just starting to be able to grip things. Completely dependent and fragile, she eats when she is hungry and sleeps when she is tired. (When do we forget life is supposed to be that simple?)
About twenty minutes after I arrived, I noticed her grandmother singing to her. She gently sang, “Kyrie eleison.” Benigna listened with one eye open slowly moving her arms. Her grandmother kept repeating the song. “Kyrie eleison.” “Kyrie eleison.” The prayer for mercy and love was being raised so sweetly. Gods ears were right there. Perhaps that was God made real in that moment. She was learning about family, love and safety. I sat there silently praying, too. I prayed that Benigna would know the kind of love that sustains, inspires, and transcends. I prayed that no harm would ever come to her. I prayed she will always know her shine.
Tahra and I spent the day at the spa on the Friday of my visit. Eustace was at school. Her mother-in-law was watching Benigna. Everything was in place, and Tahra had arranged a day of luxury. Manicures. Pedicures. Massages. Tahra needed the day at the spa. Sleep deprived and exhausted, a few hours of self care were the perfect prescription. The time following Benigna’s birth had been rough for Tahra. (As it is for all new mothers.) Feeding every two hours. A very attached three year-old. Breast feeding struggles. The spa was a moment of relief. Sitting next to each other gossiping while our toes and fingers were being trimmed, buffed, and polished was wonderful. We talked about everything from her sister’s recent visit to Jessica Simpson’s night nurse. Relaxation is rare and very shiny.
Part of the spa day was a 90 minute massage. I was ushered into a simply decorated room. Quiet mood music played as I prepared for the massage. A beautiful, slight woman with almond eyes and fierce hands introduced herself and started the massage. Muscle by muscle. Limb by limb. Stretching. Resisting. She would find knots and tightness and memories would be triggered. I would have to breathe through each painful moment. As she worked through the tension, a release occurred. She identified pain in my shoulders. She pressed and extended parts of my lower back that I have not been able to move in years. I am convinced there is an intimate connection between our muscles and memories, and I let some old stuff go that day.
I went puddle jumping with Eustace on Saturday evening. Walking with Eustace was one of the most special things I did during my time in Carmel. On walks he would teach me his favorite songs, show me where his friends live, and take me to special places in the neighborhood like the bridge and the beach. These walks were the time when I would get to know him. Our conversations were shiny simple pleasures. It had rained steadily on Saturday afternoon, so our Saturday evening walk required we wear boots. The standing water along the windy road required we jump in every puddle as we walked along the way. We laughed. Got wet. Laughed some more. I think ahead to the moments that will surely come in the future, milestones in his life, and I know I will always see him as the little puddle jumper.
In retrospect, I peered into the soft underbelly of shine in Carmel. In the middle of it, it was a lot about trying to show compassion for Tahra, witnessing the vulnerability of a new born, and appreciating the energy and joy of a toddler. The entire experience required a presence to my fundamental definitions of friendship and love. Compassion. Vulnerability. Joy. That is what I learned about shine in Carmel.