Even the best laid plans fall apart. Yesterday, day 2 of my trip to Florida, was intended to be spent shopping like an accountant. But travelling companions have their own plans, and two with their own different ideas and the car keys can leave your intentions in the back seat. Mama Bushlings wanted to shop for the house and Papa Bushlings wanted to visit the family.
It worked out well! I settled for a pedicure while they shopped with Mama Bushlings and was thoroughly entertained by a Vietnamese guy who explained why he had tried at being a gigolo but nobody would call him back so he was stuck doing nails to feed his wife and two kids both under the age of two. After this Papa Bushlings took me to see the family.
He took me to meet a great uncle of mine in the generation of my Aunty of the Ackee and my grandmother. He and his wife are living in Florida as they battle together against the cancer that seeks to claim his life. They have been married in the region of half a century and are devoted to each other. It showed me what commitment looks like. At 79 years of age it doesn’t look like steamy nights and rolling thunder. It looks like something far deeper, far more bittersweet, and far more heavy. The difference is like the comparison between chewing gum and a 5 course meal. I left his home grateful that he has lived in this love as he now faces his mortality.
One of the Bushlings cousins went with us. He is a giant of a man, not just in stature but in my opinion. Much like my daddy in fact. He lives with his children and his wife not far away and visits the uncle. This man I know – he is dear to my daddy and they have many childhood memories together. He told me many family stories – about sides of the family unknown to me. About the cousin who became the second wife of a Pakistani traveller, the cousins who grew up deep in Spanish Town ghettos and have become gun-toting garrison soldiers, other cousins who live in New York and others in Florida.
He also told me stories of his childhood with my dad. It is so fascinating how children can live together in a moment and take from that moment two very different things. As my giant of a cousin recounts the tale Daddy Bushlings fills in blanks here and there until their puzzle pieces fit together offering me a 3D image of old arguments and family milestones.
He took us to see his sisters, and that will be a whole other story in future days. We spent some time with his family. In bits and pieces I got another story of commitment.
My cousins have seen the hardest of these hard times in Florida as the economy has tanked and yet they continue to thrive. They had to give up their home, fight for work, at the same time as putting four children through school. He has hustled, and so has his partner in life, and they have now found a way to push their heads above water and kick furiously to the surface. With clean hands. And with commitment. You would never guess their struggles when walking into the peace of their home. Like a duck gliding gracefully on the surface, it is the grace that you see. Not the furious kicking underneath. And it isn’t that he has anything to hide – he described the last four years for us very openly. It is simply the grace and gentleness with which they approach life and responsibility. And a good sense of humour.
These moments bring great lessons for my own life and memories to give my children. I come from a line of family men without equal. And this day was spent with only three of the hundreds. Is it any wonder that my standards are high? On days like today, spending time around my daddy and the family that made him, my soul rests in belonging and my heart swells with hope. Even here on my own I belong to someone. To special people. And their love and protection no man can replace.
When his time comes for him to enter my life I will know him. Because he will resemble my giants.