A Posture of Peace

Melissa O’Brien

I am composing for you my bi-weekly missive from the eastern end of Long Island. My daughter Coco and I traveled out here with my former brother- and sister-in-law, Mark and Margaret, to visit with members of the family to which I belonged when I was married the first time. 

If I go much deeper into the dynamics of this situation, you’ll lose track. It will become confusing, but not because of all the descriptors, because of all the peace.

We are staying at a magical place called Pow Wow Point, built by my former husband’s grandparents, Helen and Richard, now inhabited by their son, his wife and their charming Lab, Chica. We have come here, in part, to say both hello and good-bye to a member of the family who is moving closer to end of life. And to stalk Ina Garten, Coco’s culinary heroine; but that’s a separate story.

This is the first time in 20 years that I have woken up in this house. It’s a funny and jarring and wonderful feeling to have been welcomed warmly back here into the home and lives of these people all these years later. A lot has happened in 20 years. The band of rug rats who were not taller than the picnic table 20 years ago are now all taller than us, away in school, buying houses of their own, getting engaged. Most of us have gray hair now, some of us have stopped drinking, all of us are shocked by the passage of time. 

No one is holding a grudge or acting weird. Time will do that, if you let it: soften the rough edges on one’s righteousness, turning it into a kind of generosity that allows one to accept the truth that life rarely turns out how we imagined it would.

It is not lost on me that this particular pilgrimage is taking place in the same week when the leaders of North and South Korea came together, shook hands, sat and shared a meal and spoke of hope and peace. Kim Jong-un began that day by stepping over a slab of concrete that marks the border between those two nations, becoming the first North Korean leader to set foot in the south. Later in the day the leaders’ wives joined them for dinner, and during the farewell ceremony the two men, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, held hands.

One simply cannot help feeling a kind of joy witnessing an historic moment like that.

Families can become divided; I see it all the time in my hospice work. Communities like ours face challenges that provoke contentious and divisive feelings; even countries can split in two. We can burn bridges, and we can build them, too. I know we often don’t like to admit it, but we are more alike, us humans, than we are different. We like to be right just a wee bit too often, and a righteous stance is fertile ground for dissension. 

Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim broke bread and offered at least the possibility of peace in their time together. It was a gesture as old as humankind, sharing a meal and setting aside past differences. 

When we arrived here at Pow Wow Point, Paddy and Laura set out plates of oysters and tuna, grilled sausage and octopus, the treasures of the nearby landscape. And we stood together on the back patio looking out the foggy bay, talking as if the 20 years between our last meeting and this one had never happened. Lessons all around this final week of April: bring peace to the table. Borders, divorces, fences, concrete slabs—these are human constructs, made permanent and unwieldy only by sheer force of will. 

Welcome to May, bright and beautiful Charlotter, break down some boundaries of your own in the freshness of this new spring.