The ocean is a place that holds significant memories for both me and my family.
I think of trips to Block Island, Rhode Island-- dried hydrangeas in shop windows and bike rides with views of tall windswept grass leading to cliffs that drop to the ocean. I think of visits to Beavertail in Jamestown, of fun evenings and live music in Newport. Walks along streets lined with homes from the 1700s and decorated in a history that is both real and rooted and invented by my imagination, which is always recreating lives already lived in an effort to make better sense of my own. (History repeats itself, they say.) In the end, it’s all rose-colored and better because the past always is, even when it’s our own.
It is my most recent trip to the New Jersey shore, however, that led to my latest reflections about the ocean and not just the joy it brings, but my own entwined sense of wonder, insignificance and loss. Leading up to it, I had the nagging sense that something bad was going to happen, even though former trips with friends to the same place were filled with nothing but fun and relaxation.
The length of the stay is what made me uneasy. It was my first full week spent at a beach since a family trip taken years ago, which started with a 14+ hour drive in the car (that time, to Myrtle Beach, SC), ending with a phone call upon our arrival, letting us know that a close family member had passed away. I will never forget how pure the feeling of guilt felt in that moment-- to have such joy and anticipation filling your heart one moment, only to realize that you were wrong, very wrong to feel that way. I’ll never again take a vacation without feeling at least a twinge of guilt that I can’t quite place. I think it all stems from that experience.
We spent a day or so feeling out of place, watching the waves and holding on to nothing but sadness. Planning a funeral and resting just long enough to find the energy to turn around and drive back home. We didn’t know it then, but that funeral marked the beginning of what would turn into three or four tough years ahead filled with loss as 13 or so of our immediate and closest extended family members passed away. To this day, the phone ringing in our family’s home causes at least one of us to say “uh-oh.” Like the dog drooling at the sound of a bell. Or some cruel version of that.
The present-day trip to the shore would turn out to be another filled with loss. My great-aunt, the mother of my very close cousins, passed away. Out of respect for the privacy of our family, this isn’t a post “in tribute,” or even a post about loss or sadness, although I think it is in some way a reflection of all three.
The ocean, for some of us, holds stories, family memories, significant conversations with close friends, or simply fun-filled days of boogie-boarding, beach reading and building sand castles. For others, it is a livelihood or passion. A place to go to think, to simmer, to feel small (in a good way).
Whatever the ocean is to you or holds for you, I hope it helps you remember that life isn’t fleeting-- in fact, it’s long and filled with an infinite amount of quiet, tragic, and touching moments you’ll never know because they have happened already, or will happen after you’ve gone.
No, life isn’t fleeting. Rather, life is a series of moments in time-- short yes, but forever yours, clear as glass, rose-colored, remembered (or not), but so beautifully yours.