Even though Rich and I have not perhaps explored as much of New Zealand as we would have liked (due to the three car-trip-resistant individuals who cohabit with us), nevertheless it has not escaped our attention that this country is Seriously Gorgeous. We've seen enough to take our breath away.
There are a spots which have become special to our little family, such as the nearby beaches (including one made entirely of shells!) Even though I am not a 'beach person,' I will lament living 9 hours inland in a few weeks - there is simply no easier, cheaper or quieter family outing. After barely a four minute drive, we can unload the kids at deserted shoreline and all three immediately become deeply absorbed in digging and building and hunting for shells and feathers and driftwood and stones. There's barely any talking - and certainly no bickering. I can plant myself in the sand and not move (heck, not even speak) for sixty to ninety minutes. What more could a pregnant mother ask for?
not just for hot summer days!
Yes, Bernadette bursts into tears if a dog or a "Jeep" appear on the horizon - and yes, inevitably Joseph's mouth and eyes will be completely full of sand - and yes, the car is an absolute sandbox when we arrive home - but everyone is really happy for at least one whole hour. I'll have to look into creating a faux-beach in our backyard when we return home.
But it's not the beaches or the shells or the beloved pointy green hills to which it will really be hard to say goodbye. After all, there's just as much beauty waiting for us back home: red autumn leaves and snowy serenity and hot summer nights filled with fireflies. (Also Entenmann's. And my beloved house.)
(not my photos!)
The hard goodbyes will be to people. To Fr. Michael. To the youth. To the parish. Yesterday morning that reality came crashing down on me in a crushing way. I was leaving Mass and an older gentleman scurried to catch me. He drew a small object from his pocket and pressed it into my hand. It was a small metal locket he had been given as a gift over sixty years ago, on the day he made his First Holy Communion. Inside it contained a teeny Rosary. With great emotion, he asked me to give it to my girls. I was overwhelmed. I honestly didn't want to take it; it obviously meant so much to him. He insisted, telling me that he had no one else to pass it on to, and how much he has enjoyed seeing my girls in church each morning. I told him that I would keep it until Maria's First Communion. He smiled, and teared, and said that that was exactly what he hoped. I walked away feeling totally overwhelmed and deeply moved - and very, very sad. I have a feeling this is just the beginning of four very intense weeks.
The people of this parish have loved us. I don't mean that we've been "popular" or regarded as "wonderful" - I mean that they have loved us - as a verb. It's about them. THEY have loved us. They have shown us immense warmth and generosity, and authentic concern for our well-being. Two years ago, the first day we walked into the church, a young mother greeted me with tears in her eyes - she was so overjoyed to have us. Those first weeks, so many parishioners dropped off baking, cards, fruit, flowers, bicycles, gift cards and other tokens of welcome and openness. Shortly after we arrived, a younger widow, noticing that Rich had not brought a suit with him, gave him the suit that had belonged to her beloved late husband. When Joseph was born, it felt like he was the whole parish's new baby. When he was sick, that feeling was even more pronounced. There are still parishioners who lovingly pray for him every day, even though he is doing so well now. Yes, they have loved us - and it is a sign of who they are, not of what we are. I will of course miss all the astonishing natural beauty, but the beauty of the human spirit matches even the most breathtaking vistas. The hard goodbyes will be to people.