The first time I saw the sea, I was on my way to womanhood. With my arms crossed tight across breast buds and toes in the cold sand, I looked out at the dark Atlantic, surveying with curiosity something I’d only ever imagined.
We’d stopped to make the introduction on our way northward, heading somewhere inland, just passing by. We were not a family that vacationed much, what with all the scrapping to make ends meet. So, I met the sea briefly and I was unimpressed.
The first time I dove deep into her, it was in the swathed insecurity of seventeen. A guest with a friend on their family’s beach trip, my skin turned golden there and it was fleeting fun. But I knew better than to get attached because by then I knew, poor girls with landlocked addresses do not have lasting affairs with seashores.
I visited a time or two as I became comfortable in my adulthood. And I boldly proclaimed, “Sure, this is lovely for those who feel moved by it, but I do not.”
When South Carolina called me home, and we packed up our life and our family and planted ourselves in this foreign state, I did not drive the two hours to the coast for an entire year. Why bother, I thought. I am a garden girl that belongs in the pines. What do I need with the sand?
This is how she took me by surprise, how she gripped me at thirty-six and swept me off my stubbornly grounded feet. I went on an invitation. Took the kids for one last summer fling before school, and she moved me, hard and fast. The water sang out to me in rhythm and somewhere in the depths of me, my sea-loving heart woke. Somewhere, something wild and deep in me was soothed by the crooning of the gulls and the repetition of the waves. I found a love and a healing I hadn’t known before that, buried in the deep and watery place that sat beneath the fear to hope.
My home is in the garden, it’s true, where there is rich soil and lush life. But this weekend when I drove to my beautiful South Carolina shore, I thanked God for the sea. Here is peace, a gravity I cannot explain, a vastness I cannot comprehend, even when I look on it for hours. Here are the sunrises reflected on waves and tides that come and go, speaking volumes to the ebb of flow of life.
Perhaps it took proximity for me to let my guard down and love her. Perhaps it took maturity to know you can be planted happily in one place but also have desire for another. Perhaps it took bravery to open my heart to a land so very different from what I’d always known as my portion. Either way, I woke this morning to the sound of crashing waves floating through my open Airbnb window, and as I’ve watched the tide go out and creep back in, my heart has poured out praise. For what? I’m not sure exactly. But it’s something I found in the salty water, in rest and in shells, in the rhythmic song and the joy of knowing it’s a love affair that is for me, a girl who can plant her toes in soil or sand just the same.