We spent many of the Easters of my childhood on Oak Island, a marshy finger of land sitting in the Atlantic Ocean just off the southern tip of North Carolina. My grandparents built a cedar shake house about a mile from the beach, on a scrubby patch of land on 48th Street – a long, residential road that ends at the Intracoastal Waterway. They never poured a driveway, so when my brother and I hopped out of the car after excursions to the beach or the town park, we often found ourselves ankle-deep in thick, dark gray sand teeming with fire ants.
In those days, Oak Island wasn’t a tourist destination and had a small, mostly older year-round population; it didn’t boast many restaurants, much less churches. So to celebrate the holiday, my Presbyterian family and I donned our Sunday best and drove to the Baptist church at the corner of our street and the island’s main road. After the service, we changed clothes at the beach house and went to the park, where Mom and Dad and our grandparents hid eggs we’d helped them hard-boil and dye in every color of the pastel rainbow in the airy kitchen with the vaulted ceiling the night before.
These are the memories that define Easter for me. I realize only now, as I share them here, that my sister Taylor isn’t in any of them. The last picture of the beach house that I remember is of my mom – eight months pregnant with Taylor – in the sun room where I sat at the white desk to draw pictures and curled up on the love seat to lose myself in a story after a sun-drenched day on the beach. My grandparents had to sell the house that year. It was an “adult” thing that I didn’t notice at the time or understand after it was over, even after I’d had time to dry my tears.
It’s been nearly 15 years since the beach house changed hands, but I still miss it. Even more than the house, I miss the way of life that’s disappeared in recent years. The house itself had its imperfections; at 1,500 square feet, it didn’t have enough bedrooms to hold our extended family, and it never stayed cool during the brutal summer months. The blue vinyl couches in the living room made you sweat even if icicles hung from the porch railings outside. We didn’t have a first row or even a third row view of the ocean; 48th Street runs perpendicular to the ocean road, and our neighbors across the street had an odd affection for plastic yard ornaments. And those fire ants…
But I’ll never forget our late-night egg-dying sessions or our private Easter egg hunts in the park; Fourth of July fireworks on the Cape Fear River in Southport, just across the bridge on the mainland; picnics in the wind-beaten cabana on the Oak Island beach; family baseball games at the town’s baseball diamond and the satisfaction of knowing that I had the coolest grandmother in the world as I watched her run the bases after hitting the ball into left field; walking to the end of 48th Street in the hours before dusk to find my favorite rock perched on the shore of the Intracoastal, scribble stories in a worn spiral notebook and shape my dreams.
The meaning of Christmas, the holiday that celebrates the birth of Christ, is easy for most people to understand. But a lot of people lose perspective when it comes to Easter.
Easter, the holiday that coincides with the arrival of spring, celebrates the resurrection of Christ. But in simpler, more universal terms, it celebrates new life.
We’ve lost so much since the days of the beach house. My grandmother, the matriarch of our family, passed away on Christmas Day 2012, but we lost much of her to a monstrous brain disease called Lewy body dementia long before that. Taylor, absent from all of those happy Oak Island memories, began with a life that seemed full of promise. She has lost more than all of us.
But in the wake of heartbreak, new hope still emerges. That is the miracle of life. And I understand now that THAT is the miracle of Easter – that it’s possible to BELIEVE even after a tragedy. God’s greatest miracle was the resurrection of Christ and the gift we received – eternal life.
Batten disease is senseless. It’s terrible. It’s tragic. It’s winning the battle for my sister’s life here on Earth. It’s stolen so much – priceless pieces of Taylor that we’ll never get back; pieces of ourselves, stripped away by the pain of being faced with losing someone you love to a monster like Batten disease; and most of our energy as we battle it day in and day out to give hope to future Taylors.
But we live in a world full of wonder.
Tomorrow is a new day.