Thursday, June 21, 2012


Five thousand years ago, the ancient peoples of the British Isles erected a monument that measures time. Today, no one is sure if this was why Stonehenge was built in the Salisbury Plains of England, but on every summer solstice, the sun rises precisely over the heel stone and shines through an arch directly on the center of the monument.  Each month, the sun shines through a different spot counting the days like clockwork.  Like Stonehenge, our family has marked a year, but rather than well placed stones, I have measured the time with places and words.

Last year, on June 20th, Wyatt and I started summer camp in Atlanta while Greg and the girls began packing up our life in Canton.  We were full of big plans, but no idea of what lay ahead for our family.  Thrilled to be taking a retirement year to spend traveling with our children, we were still ignorant to the amount of work it would take.

A year later, on the day before the summer solstice, our family walked side-by-side to one of the oldest manmade monuments on Earth and our ninth world heritage site this year. (We have visited: Independence Hall, Old City of Quebec, Grand Canyon, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, Liverpool, City of Bath, and Stonehenge.)  We have achieved much in the span of one year, but looking at the ancient stones and hearing about the people who built the structure, our accomplishments felt small in comparison.  During the fifteen hundred years of construction from the early timbers to the final manifestation of two rings of giant rocks, the stone age builders loved, breathed, ate and slept; thousands of people were born, lived and died.  Their graves dotted the countryside surrounding Stonehenge.  For a year now, it has seemed that everything revolved around our travels, homeschool, and our experiences.  Standing at the ancient monument, our lives seemed so small and insignificant, yet precious and fleeting.  Once again, I was overwhelmed by the passage of time.

Back in Bath, we took a cruise up the River Avon, admiring the beautiful vegetation and homes on the river banks.  Afterwards, I walked Wyatt and Emma back to the Royal Victoria Playground for a romp before the rain.  I sat and watched them play, contemplating life.  How lucky we were to have healthy children! How lucky we were to have our health!  The torturing thought that racked my brain was that it can all change in a second. Questions haunted me.  How does one balance the appreciation for one's good fortune with the knowledge that fortune can turn on a dime?  How can one enjoy good fortune when another is suffering?  This day has been filled with incredible fortune for my family, but terrible pain for others.

On the playground, I saw many mothers with their children: some playing, some scolding, some nursing, some dozing.  Though we have a kinship of sorts with our common experiences, not one of us have shared the exact same pleasures or pains of life.  However, we all have an obligation to raise our children as best we can for the future of society.  We have a requirement to support each other with kindness and understanding and pass this empathy on to our children.  Maybe the best thing we can do for one another is to appreciate our unique fortuities.  We can strive for something more; but isn't being content with life a great gift to those around us?

Walking home from the park, we met an American expat.  He and his wife had emigrated to England fourteen years ago for a change of scenery.  He shared with me that his wife had successfully battled cancer, but though he didn't say it in so many words, I understood that his daughter had lost her fight with disease.  They sought solace in a new place.  Now retired, he told me he wished he had taken a year of retirement with his children and wife while they all had their health and not worried about money and career.  He said, "I have so much I would like to do now, but don't have the energy to do it."

Emma enjoyed petting his dogs while we talked, but Wyatt grew impatient waiting.  I did not intend to have a long conversation with another stranger; I only asked him about his dog who was in a wheeled harness.  Hearing my American accent, the man took the opportunity to reminisce about the States (good coffee and stores open past six in the evening) and the positive outlook of the American people.  I have found it amazing that showing a little interest in another human's condition opens up some very interesting conversation.  After parting with the gentleman, I explained all this to Wyatt.  We have an obligation to care about the life experiences of others, and, if we are lucky, learn from them.  Another positive of this year has been the opportunity for teachable moments like this and the time to do my best with them.

Marking the difference between June twentieths: last year, I was longing for my children's simple baby days and plagued with discontent over their childhoods of nonstop activity and desperate for a change.  This year, I am at ease with their transformations through childhood to adolescence and feel privileged to be a witness and a part of their lives.  Greg and I are like Stonehenge.   We are the Sarsen stones set firmly in the ground and our children are the lintel stones, resting on our shoulders.  Years from now, I hope they appreciate this time they had with us as much as we have appreciated this precious time with them.

Greg thinks I made too big a deal out of Stonehenge: it's really very small.

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