Thoughts: Off to the Sea

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Tomorrow, the woman I love and I head out to Cape Cod. My daughter and a beloved niece will be joining us. We may have a guest or two for a day or so during the week, but mostly it will just be the four of us. We are pretty much ready. We have someone watching the house and keeping the cats. The dining room table has become the staging ground for groceries and other things we might need. My suitcase is packed and sitting on a bench next to the table.

Much of the cape, just like much of the country, is closed, or at best, semi-open. There won’t be a lot to do. No visiting my favorite restaurants or taking in shows. Just time and the ocean and people I love. I can’t imagine anything better.

I am in need of the ocean.

I used to be a mountain person. When I needed to empty myself, I hiked to some obscure spot and sat, letting the horizons and rolling hills of the Blue Ridge mountains soothe my soul. When I went regularly, I was generally in a good place. When I went less, I was in a less good place.

I don’t know if the not-going was a symptom or a cause of the not good. Maybe some of both. All I know is that hiking high into the hills was soothing to my soul.

When I moved to Vermont eleven years ago. I continued to hike locally. I particularly took walks in the abandoned quarry across from my home. I love my quarry walks. I love watching the plant life and landscapes changed week to week, particularly in the spring and summer, when there is a new round of wildflowers each week. But it is not the soul emptying thing it once was.

That probably has more to do with me than anything else. I had a lot to work through when I moved up here. Perhaps it was more to deal with than a mere mountaintop or woodland stream could be expected to heal.

Early on in my relationship with the woman I love, the woman who is now my wife, she suggested I go to Cape Cod for a few days. Even then she had come to sense that I do best when I have a few days of complete aloneness now and again.

The Cape (as they refer to it up here in New England) was a foreign place to me. I knew nothing about it. But I took her advice, and in March, the off-season, found a place at the tip of the Cape, in Provincetown.

On the way to Provincetown, I pulled off in Chatham, near the mainland. Chatham is one of those places with long low sandbars that, when it is low tide, allow you to go far out into the ocean. I took off my shoes and walked in the sand for a couple of hours. Stopping now and again just to listen to the waves and shut my eyes, letting the early spring sun soak into my pale Vermont skin.

I felt it even then. A healing. An emptying. For a mind that does not handle emotional chaos well, and that often lived in that chaos, that emptying was magical. I felt…. like myself again, my mind and soul uncluttered, unburdened.

The rest of the weekend fell into a pattern. Mornings and evenings were spent walking or sitting on the beach. Midday, I would sit at a local coffee shop and write. I lived for those mornings and evenings. I came back renewed in a way I did not think was possible any longer. It was like meditation, but more powerful.

What was it? The eternal sound of ocean waves? Maybe the empty horizons that were so broad that you felt there was room for all the stuff in your head to empty out, without touching the vastness?  Maybe I am more open to God’s own spirit there? I have no idea. All I know is that it was life-changing. In that first moment, I went from being a mountain guy to an ocean guy.  Since then I have tried to go for a few days in the fall and spring when there are virtually no people there.  I can not tell you what it does for me. but it has become an essential part of my spiritual sanity.

I did not get to go this past fall because of my cancer surgery and rehab. I did not get to go this spring because of the coronavirus. Nothing was open. Nothing was allowed. So, at a time when so much has been going on (and let’s not forget the sea-change of George Floyd’s murder and all it has brought to the surface), my succor has not been available to me.

So to say it is overdue is a minor understatement. Maybe a major understatement. Even with people around, there will be the ocean. Walks. The music of waves. The horizons. The emptying.

I do not know if it is a sign of weakness that I need such times to empty and let myself be myself, to be freed from the clutter of modern life. It might be. It might also be a sign of strength and wisdom that I recognize the things that keep me strong and take advantage of them.

But I am to a place in my life where I don’t need to know all the whys. Knowing what is and what works and what happens when I do this or that, is enough. I look back and perhaps needing to know all the whys was part of my inner anxiety. And the releasing of that need to know was part of my healing.

So I don’t know what it is about the ocean that changes me for the better. I just know it does. And I am grateful.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

PS: The image is one of my paintings. Part of a trio of small seascapes.

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