I spent a lot of time at Pilgrim Lake this summer while I vacationed in Orleans. It used to be a very crowded, popular place, especially with younger families. Kids could run around by the water screaming and yelling without fearing undertow or great white sharks. There used to be a large raft some yards out for kids and adults to jump off. Liza and I raised our children at Pilgrim Lake and were responsible for more than our share of noisy kids. Usually Liza’s siblings and their kids were running around the beach, too. There were times when half the people at Pilgrim were related to me – it was great.
Pilgrim Lake is the place where my brother Steven drowned 20 years ago. There is a bench near a shade tree that bears his name. It’s a perfect place to get out of the sun and watch the beach. I love it when I see kids and adults sitting there. It’s as if every time the bench is used, Steven’s memory is being well-served.
For whatever reason, things have quieted down at Pilgrim. In fact on at least 3 occasions I was the only one on the beach. It was never for a long time, but long enough to cherish the quiet and the sheer beauty of that spot. I look out to the approximate place where Steven went under and never returned. I remember the madness and the sorrow of that day. And then I look at the sapphire sky and the reflection of the trees in the water. I feel the hot sun on my face and the breeze that keeps me just cool enough to withstand the heat. I realize that in the face of such simple splendid beauty, how can I stay sad? How can I not acknowledge the transcendent power of this place? How can I not celebrate how this place has nurtured me even while it has taken from me, too…?
While at the Cape this summer my son and his wife came to stay with us for a few days, along with their boy – my grandson (God I love the way that sounds…). Of course the whole tribe went to Pilgrim. I watched as my son Jonah played with Caleb, my grandson. There they were having a really good time. Caleb would throw some sand and Jonah would chase him. It was one of those silly games that seem so engrossing when you’re playing with a 1 year old.
It struck me quite suddenly as I sat there at Pilgrim that time had simultaneously expanded and contracted. It took my breath away. There I was, watching my son play the same game with his son that I had played with him when he was my grandson’s age. It was an infinite loop, a picture in a picture in a picture… It was a form of time travel.
Pilgrim Lake is the site of my pain and my pleasure, my past, present and future, beginnings and endings. If, as Sheryl Crowe says, “Every day is a winding road”, then at least for this summer if not for every other day, that road has passed through Orleans and led right to Pilgrim Lake.
This winding road has so many hairpin turns, so many surprises and hazards and vistas. Not even Google maps can provide me a surefire way of navigating it. All I can do is keep my heart and my eyes open, appreciating every moment of love and grace.
There will be time to comment on the world’s crises and angst. There will be opportunities to acknowledge the challenges to which we must respond. The new year’s to-do list grows by the second. But just for now – right now – before all of the hard work begins, let me share simply how good it is to be alive, to thank God for the blessings of transcendent beauty, for the mystery of the winding road.
It’s good to be back.