One of the things I love and cherish most about my family is the priority we've learned to put on on togetherness. As kids, we were always at the dinner table at 6:30 to eat with everyone. If we had basketball games, we ate earlier or in the car or at the gym, but always together. We've been so, so fortunate to be able to travel every summer. But it doesn't even really feel like traveling as much as it's finding a solace -- a place to lay our heads together, to hunker down, to refuel together.
This year, my dad was having an insane time at work. He'd just won a multi-million dollar bid and we were so proud of him. (We always are, but he had worked hard for this specific piece of business.) We'd originally planned a trip to San Fransisco, but my mom broke her foot a few months before our flights were set to leave and my dad's phone had become a fixture in my parents' house. So, we changed our plans and planned a return trip to our favorite island in all the world. Hilton Head, South Carolina has been a place of rest for us for more than fifteen years. We'd almost outgrown it, but when my mom whispered a suggestion of returning, I was just so stinking happy.
The thing about the island is that going feels so much like coming home. My sisters and I can get around without help from my dad (we're all pretty directionally stupid). We know where the best restaurants are. We know that we have to rent bikes in order to feel fully here.
And so we did. One of the only times my dad got away from his laptop (bless him) was to go on a bike ride. The island is literally laid out for bikes; the trails run alongside the road and you can get anywhere you need from them. It's fantastic.
We hopped on and got rolling with no destination in mind. Now, I'm not a super coordinated individual. I trip a lot and look completely stupid trying to play sports (even though I really love to play basketball). I actually cut my head open a few summers ago trying to ride a friend's bike that was way too tall for me. So, though I know my way around sans training wheels, it's not always pretty.
Our first stretch was smooth. But we visited during the peak season, so we were sharing the road with other bicyclists: families, grandparents, kids, honeymooners. The first time I swerved, I consoled myself saying I was really nervous about sharing such a tiny strip of asphalt with a family of seventeen. As we passed our next fellow bicyclists and I nearly swerved off the side, I knew it was something deeper.
Every time we passed people, I continued to slip. My eyes would slink to them, thinking about how they surely were looking at how stupid I looked. They surely noticed my hair was not in cute, tussled beach waves, but rather a sticky, stringy beach salt crimp. Surely they realized my stomach was not as flat as it used to be, nor are my arms as toned. I look like an idiot on this bike, I told myself, and they knew it, too.
This isn't my first rodeo with comparison. I'm no stranger to feeling like junk when a pretty person walks by, thinking that her beauty automatically negates anything good about me. I'm a pro comparer and I look for the good in others while, in the same breath, looking for the bad in me.
On our way back, I tried my best to keep my eyes forward and rehearse what I've been telling myself for years:
"You are allowed to be here."
It's nice to be invited, isn't it? It's nice to get a paper invitation saying, "Yes! We want you here!" And so, I told myself the same thing I'd been telling others for years: You are allowed to be here. And though my hands were sweaty and my grip even tighter, I didn't swerve when we saw groups of people coming toward us because we all belonged. Not just me. Not just them. We all did.
And, what I’ve learned is you belong just as much as I do. Just as much as the person across the room from you. Don't allow yourself to swerve off the path because your eyeballs have a tendency to glance sideways.