Thursday, March 21, 2013

Held by the Sea

Last week while on vacation with family and friends, I stood in the wet sand on a beach in Costa Rica and looked out to the horizon, where the ocean meets the sky at a magical point of infinity. The warm water swirled at my ankles as the tide washed in and out. This Pacific Ocean is an old friend I have missed terribly.

The Pacific and I parted ways 17 years ago when we moved away from my native California to Austin, Texas. I've been back to visit the Pacific many times since, of course, but I feel land-locked in Texas, and torn away from something so meaningful to me, that endless and magnificent sea. As a kid I lived in Hermosa Beach where I swam in the ocean nearly every day, bobbing in the waves on my Dad's back when I was very young, then body surfing those waves as I got older. The ocean connected me to the world, cradled me, calmed me. When I swam in the ocean I was swallowed up in the planet, folded in, embraced by it. It was always that way for me when I was in the sea ... it touched me and soothed me like a cool hand on feverish skin.
My family left Hermosa Beach when I was 15 years old and we moved to the Bay Area. I remember the day of my last swim at the beach. The car was packed and we were to leave for Oakland the following morning. That last afternoon I swam way out and bobbed and floated over the rolling waves, then literally said goodbye to my ocean.

"I love you," my tender, young self said out loud. "Thank you for giving me so much. I'll miss you."

Yet last week as I stood there ankle deep on that beach in Costa Rica, the years and the distance to my youth on the shores of Hermosa Beach fell away. This was the same ocean in a different country, the same waters that lapped at my feet, the same Pacific I loved, the same old friend. So much time had passed since I swam in the Pacific that last day in Hermosa Beach. But now the 50 years swam together to form what had become my precious life. The ocean was always there, a constant. Just feeling the water on my skin, or even just looking out to sea, I felt my powerful place in the world.
So this rather mature beach girl waded further out, waist deep. The small breakers crashed against me. Further still and up to my chest, nicely shaped waves were peaking and breaking. I hopped towards a big one and went under it just before it broke. Then that old familiar spring off the bottom and break through to the surface, feeling like a dolphin ... and into the calm on the other side. It was like coming up into another world ...  remote, quiet, weightless. Then bobbing and bobbing, and watching for the next waves to swell and roll in, just floating and being held by the sea.