The Privilege of Getting Away

Last week, we made the trek up to the Black Hills of South Dakota for our triennial family reunion. Especially since becoming a parent, I look forward to these gatherings. Kids running wild in the field, cousins reconnecting as though no time has passed, reminiscing and retelling the same stories, laughing, crying, singing hymns, watching any kid in range and resting in the knowledge that others are doing the same for my kids.

This year’s was the first time a member of the founding generation – my grandmother and her siblings – was unable to attend. My parents’ generation became the oldest; We are now at the age of our parents when these gathering began; Our kids are making memories and forming relationships that will create a foundation for adulthood.

Each reunion is held in a different location, so every three years we explore a new part of the country. Each area offers things we wish we could recreate each time and each area has things we gladly leave behind.

This year, our location was at Custer State Park and one of my favorite perks was the spotty network coverage. I had taken social media off my phone beforehand, since I wanted to be fully present, even in the downtimes. But, it wasn’t really necessary. My phone stayed in my room most of the time. I think I only took about five pictures the entire week. Staying present, living in the moment, keeping memories in my mind not on Instagram was easy and refreshing.

It also meant that I turned off the news. The reunion began with the aftermath of the Dallas police shooting, but we were already out of range by the time the ones in Baton Rouge occurred. Taking a week off seemed like a respite in the midst of story after story of anger and tragedy and loss.

IMG_1317Frank and I took an ATV ride along some old mining trails in the hills and, though it was far from a quiet hike that I’m used to, being in the country and away from people reminded me of the vastness of our world. When life seems crowded and loud, I lose sight of the fact that we have so many thousands of miles of space here in America. Space where I can be without seeing anyone. Space to remember the grandness of our earth – that we humans are still quite small in this grand scheme. Space to see my first “Trump 2016” sign in someone’s front yard and to remember the difference of living in a secluded rural area instead of a crowded urban one.

As we bounced along the trail, I also recognized the privilege I have to disconnect. I am able to turn off my phone, to drive seven hours for a change of scenery, to go into the hills. My life back home carried on; I returned to everything clean and organized and normal.

For so many, the privilege to disconnect is not available. They cannot turn off and have a loved one reappear. They cannot go into the hills and return to a society that suddenly accepts the color of their skin. They cannot change their lives by changing the scenery.

I needed that week off. A week to focus on family and relationships and to marvel at the fact that generations of people gather to play together, to sing hymns together, and to support each other. I also needed to stop in the midst and remember those who do not have this gift.

By stopping to recognize, it made my time away sweeter. It made me more grateful for the privilege I have. It made me stop and pray and acknowledge those who do not have this. And it made me reflect and long for a time when getting away for a week doesn’t mean coming back to more news of anger and tragedy and loss but to a time when we can reconcile and redeem our relationships.

How do you disconnect best? Do you find you need to take intentional breaks from the news and social media?

Family Gatherings

Every three years, for the past thirty years we’ve gathered. It started with my parent’s generation, young families meeting at my great-aunt and uncle’s cabin in the Colorado Collegiate Rockies. Over the years, families grew and the decision to meet at the YMCA camp became tradition for years.

Now, we meet all over the country. At the end of each reunion, a new committee is selected to find a location, plan meals and activities, and coordinate communication. Frank and I helped plan the last one, at Zion National Park in Utah. Being on the committee gave me a new respect and understanding for the commitment my parents and their siblings and cousins had to keeping family together. (It is a lot of work planning a retreat for 70 opinionated people!)

Dancing with cousins at evening worship
Dancing with cousins at evening worship

I wonder if, when they started meeting all those years ago, they imagined it’d still be going strong thirty years later. If they saw their own grandkids running and playing together. If they realized that their kids would keep planning and looking forward to these gatherings.

Not everyone has come to every reunion. (Though I do have one cousin who has never missed!) I took a break in college and in my twenties. But, after Frank and I got married and as we started talking about traditions we wanted to instill in our children, reunions became a priority. Our last gathering was Bea’s first. It was worth the time, effort, and expense to see her interact with her second cousins once removed, to see them play as though they saw each other daily, and to see a new generation make similar memories to those I had growing up.

Does your family gather regularly? What do reunions look like for you?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.