The ocean is my drug. I need a dose every six months, lest my soul up and leave my body to search for water and waves without the rest of me. I need that distinctive, indescribable smell of salt air, sand, ocean water, and drying seaweed to hit my nostrils and restore me to my senses. The family story is that age 2, and seeing the ocean for the first time, I said “Big water!” and promptly hurled myself into six-foot breakers before either parent could stop me. My dad always said that I was giggling and laughing when he finally fished his tumbling child out of the water.
I’ve been in serious ocean withdrawal. Every May and October for as long as I can remember, I’ve spent a week at the beach. This year had no October pilgrimage. Hunting Island State Park, where I’ve rented a cabin every October for the last 13 years, has been battered by severe erosion. The cabin road is the new beachfront, with all traces of asphalt washed away, and the cabins are no longer rented.
So I am returned from an overnight trek to Mother Ocean. That temperatures were in the 30’s and winds were howling straight from the north, bringing 6 inches of snow to the beach later that day, did not matter. For when I am beside the ocean, nothing else matters. Nothing. There was only the deep ultramarine blue of the January water, the slap of waves crashing on the shore, the white spray being blown off the crests of breaking waves.
When I am beside the ocean, it doesn’t matter if I can play the harp, or if the Verdi Requiem will be possible to sing. It doesn’t matter if the foundation of my house is sinking, or if the “recovery” will restore the balance in my retirement account. At that moment, the ocean is all I need, and all I want. The ocean, with her inhalations and exhalations of waves on the shore, holds me in her rhythm. I am part of her breath, her breathing.
When my life has been the most bleak, and my heart the most despairing, when I could not find or sustain a rhythm of my own, I’ve rested in the ever-always in-and-out of waves breaking on the shore. Water in, water out. Breath in, breath out. No matter where my body stood, no matter how far away I was from those waters, I knew that at the shore, ocean waves were washing onto the beach, and sliding out to sea again, constant and faithful, in a rhythm that once remembered, could sustain and support me.
And so, this journey was a return to my old, faithful friend. One long breath, one deep inhalation of this smelling salt for my soul, and I am healed of all worry, all distress, all regrets of the past or concerns for the future. One long breath, and I am only in that moment by the sea, where all things can only be well, and shall ever be.