The Murray clan of Scotland left their native land in the 1700’s, fleeing political and religious persecution. No, that’s not it.
The Murrays left Scotland in the 1700’s, braving the tempestuous Atlantic for the lure of wealth and treasure in the new land of America. No, that’s not it either.
The Murray’s left Scotland in the 1700’s because they were searching for something they couldn’t name. They were likely clueless as to where they were going but they somehow made it to the southern coast of the New World and drifted down to a little island called Edisto where they stayed because you couldn’t go any farther and you could have All-You-Can-Eat- Shrimp Night every night.
My mom was a Murray and my grandfather was born and raised on this little coastal island. The Murray clan stretched back into the glorious antebellum days of the south, when Edisto produced Sea Island cotton, arguably the finest cotton in the world then, bringing buckets of wealth to the small community of planters. But there was a dark side, most notably the slaves, lots of them, who had probably more to do with the wealth than the white guys, but never were paid for it.
The Murray’s, history tells, were never very wealthy; not the big name plantation owners. In fact, even in the African American accounts of slave days on Edisto, the Murray’s stood out as being kind and fair. My mom said we were dreamers, not excelling in business. Maybe dreamers are the nice guys because they are looking up and over the here and now, which is often a hornet’s nest of greed and regret. My great- great- great grandfather was the first to measure the island by counting wheel rotations on a carriage. Snooze. OK, I also come from a long line of physicians, including a civil war surgeon who was wounded while serving in Lee’s army and captured by some New York yankees. Soldiers not baseball players.
I just returned from a week on this island, a glorious reunion on the ocean with my sons, their wives, my granddaughters and Aunt Patsy, a precious friend who has earned Aunt-hood over many years. I also had the delight of seeing my aunt and uncle, various cousins, (first, second, maybe third?), and revisiting many of the old childhood haunts, some literally, that I remember. As I watched my granddaughters shriek and run from the cold Atlantic waves , I was flooded with the sounds and sights of memories past; treasure hunts and oyster roasts, swimming with my brothers and cousins under the moon, the phosphorescence from the salt water sparking under our feet: then stretching out on old metal cots next to them on a screened porch overlooking the sea, the waves lulling me to sleep as the warm tropic air whispered through the screens and lightening flickered on the horizon.
I remember my dad leading the way with a tackle box in one hand and fishing poles in the other, and all of the weird sea creatures we pulled out of the water then, mostly in the creeks that wind for miles through the island; sting rays, hammer-head sharks, porcupine fish , pompanos, shrimp and of course blue crab. Or riding in the car beside him late at night when he would drive the native cooks home; the dark dirt road, the massive live oaks reaching over us,draped in Spanish moss, the screech of the cicadas. I would move close to him, remembering the ghost stories my uncle would retell every year that always seemed to end with a ghost coming back for a girl. Like me….
Next to the old Presbyterian church, there are several small headstones in the family cemetery from centuries ago, children likely taken by a wave of plague, or cholera that no amount of wealth could detour. “The Lord gives, and the Lord taketh away,” one said. “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Sometimes I view the world as this giant conveyor belt of life that picks us up at one end as infants and rolls us up and over the top until we drop off, some sooner than others. I know, this is not very poetic…really it’s kind of morbid and awful and I apologize because Murrays are also known for being a bit melancholy too. I’ve lost some precious family already and trips to Edisto can be bittersweet; a brother at age 9, my dad at 56, my son at 21, then several “cousins” as everyone is plainly called on Edisto, that were dear to me. I hear their voices and catch their laughter, soft and subtle like the sound of the wind in the palmettos. I still can’t get used to losing people.
Long before I knew who God was, He visited Edisto and I believe He liked to hang out there in its raw beauty and stillness. In my twenties, I stayed on my cousin’s cattle ranch for a couple of summers, not even understanding that I was searching for Him; His shelter and peace. My family there loved me, a crazy poet from New York City, then later a single mom with wild little boys that hid her bourbon in Very Fine apple juice bottles. They showed me what grace was without even knowing it and pointed me to Jesus, who first called me there, or more like whispered. On Edisto you can hear things like that. My journey began on that little island and today, there is something that feels right when I return.
I think with the more you lose, the more precious what you have becomes. Another stone read, ” Thank you Lord for the years You gave us with our daughter.” This shift from grief to gratitude is something God is trying to work in me lately. It’s more courageous that I can muster most days. It’s like the daring trapeze act of faith; releasing my pain and abandoning all for a heart of praise. It’s not a natural posture for a moody Murray. But I’m trying.
I can’t hold onto my sons and their families, but God can, and He’s ever so much better at it than me. I wondered, as I stared into the crashing waves, if God loved Edisto because He loved the sound of the slaves as they lifted their voices in praise to him from their endless toil in the cotton fields. Or the Murrays for their simple kindness. Maybe they came to Edisto searching for Jesus like I did, searching for something I couldn’t articulate until I found it. I can see His gentle hand upon our lives, even aunts and uncles and cousins. There is a peculiar providence that has led us all home, or almost home, into His safe harbor, right down to my grandchildren.
It’s terribly difficult for me to say goodbye to so many people I love so much. I dreaded it for two days which is silly I know. It made me appreciate my mother’s quirky habit of leaving early when she came to visit, without saying any goodbyes. We divvied up the shark’s teeth and shells, and I hugged Brooklynn and Olive extra long, imprinting their smooth little arms and hot breath, their giggles and Goodbye Ama! into my heart. They are so sure we will be together again, see Edisto again. I’m not sure of anything, except this; God will honor His promises to “your children, and your children’s children.” I don’t trust the merciless roll of time, the seemingly random ebb and flow of life on this planet, but I do trust in God’s faithfulness. Still, I cried.
Someday we will all meet again for the best reunion ever, on a distant shore where goodbyes don’t exist and death is no more. But until then I will try, really try, to just say Thank you, Lord, for the time you have given me, for my children, whether here or in heaven, and their children. Yes He gives and takes away. Help me to rejoice in all He gives and trust His sovereign hand as He takes. Blessed be the name of the Lord.