I’m sitting in my hotel, listening to plates and forks clinking around and the low hum of early bird chatter. Directly in front of me there is a window facing the sunrise over the ocean and below that, a shoreline dotted with beach walkers and shell hunters. Would you believe there are a half dozen dolphins playing in the water, about a hundred yards from the place the water meets the sand? One of them looks huge to me, but what do I know about dolphins, really?
I don’t know exactly what it is about the ocean. I’m not a terribly outdoorsy person, a fact that I have often struggled not to be ashamed of. What is it about outdoorsy people? They just seem holier than the rest of us somehow. Like they are tuned into the earth and in turn, its Creator and then there’s me and whatever I’m tuned into. Probably Twitter.
But the ocean pulls me back every year. I don’t care to get in the water past my ankles because with luck like mine, there is certainly a shark waiting to murder me. The last time I talked myself into floating beyond the point where I could touch the ocean floor, I got pinched by a crab or some other freakish sea creature with the ability to puncture my foot simultaneously on the top and bottom. I remember swimming to the shore as fast as I could, which was pretty slow, and thinking to myself, “Well, you got away with it this time. That was your warning shot. Next time, shark murder, bloodbath, total loss of limb and life.”
There hasn’t been a next time, don’t worry about me.
So I don’t come to the beach as often as I can for the swimming. I don’t come for the seafood; I’ve never understood the allure of a shrimp or scallop. No thanks. I had two chicken ceasar salads yesterday. I’m a grown woman, I do what I want.
I don’t come to the beach so I can panic about losing sight of my kids or my umbrella neighbor’s kids for a minute. Oh, you don’t take responsibility for every child within a hundred yards? How nice for you.
I come to the beach, year after year, because this world feels broken to me most of the time. War, disease, famine, environmental threat...it all hangs over my head every day like a big dark cloud. I can access panic, anger, dread, and a worst-case scenario at any moment. I don’t even have to try. I watch the news and most of it is bad. I open my computer to write, instead, I spend 30 minutes “just checking” Facebook and I’m convinced that we are all in this handbasket together and it is headed straight for Hell.
Nature, up close, is often disturbing to me. I often say I hate nature, which isn’t exactly true. But what else can I say when baby birds fall from nests? What else can I say when defenseless worms shrivel and dehydrate on sidewalks when they were just trying to escape the sodden soil and get a little oxygen? I am too soft for nature, I think.
And the ocean itself isn’t without its complications, is it? Toxic algae blooms, murder sharks, pollution, trash flotillas, rising temperatures, dead polar bears...the ocean has its own bad news to tell, that’s for sure.
But for some reason, I can’t shake the feeling that the ocean is still the very best thing we have here on earth. The ocean just keeps on doing what it was made to do and it’s a force humans haven’t yet been able to totally wreck or manipulate. The tide comes in and is pulled back out. I can count on the ocean to be unmoving, steadfast, the same each time I come. The rules of the ocean don’t shapeshift and no one can gaslight the ocean on Twitter. I know my logic breaks down when hurricanes and typhoons enter the equation, but I’m trying really hard to let one thing be good right now.
Coming down to the ocean and then heading back north toward home again, it’s like a soul shift happens every time. Maybe it’s more of a fresh start? I don’t know, exactly. But I’ve come to look back on my life according to this trip down to the ocean, or that one.
And believe me when I tell you, I needed a fresh start to help me make it to the finish line of 2019. This year has been full of good things and bright hope, to be sure. But we have known our share of the dry bone valley, too. The 24-hour news cycle has worn a hole clean through me, I’m afraid. And I’m not the only one. (Did you read what Brene Brown wrote this week? It’s like she read my mind.)
I needed to see the ocean again, to be sure it’s still as it was. I needed to see if the ocean still follows the rules.
And guess what?
It’s right where I left it.
And just like all the other times I’ve made the trip, I really do feel like I’m going home a little different than I came. I really wanted to find some clarity for what I see as the oft’ shifting purpose of my life, as a member of a family, a church, and a neighborhood, as a teacher, and as a writer. I just kind of held out my questions to God this week, as often as they tried to creep in and fill me with worry. I tried to just ask my questions and be quiet sometimes. And would you believe it, I think I got exactly what I asked for. I’ll save the details for now, but I will say that a friend I hadn’t heard from in years sent me an out-of-the-blue message today to tell me about a prophetic dream she had about me and the calling I’m getting closer to being able to name. The ocean is magic or God is really real, you’ll have to decide.
So tell me, do you have big questions or even a few small ones? What’s stopping you from asking for the answers? You might be surprised. Or not. But maybe.
What is helping you stay human in this world gone mad?