[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
I wish you could be here right now, on the beach with me. It's mid-January and there is a slight, misting rain. The ocean is a shade greyer than the sky, and in the gap between the clouds and the water there is a small dash of sun. Dark orange, the color of the egg yolks from organic, free-range chickens. There was a farm near where I grew up that sold eggs like that on the side of a sleepy, two-lane country road. Organic, free-range, non-GMO, brown and blue spotted eggs. Perfect, without even trying to be.
There is nobody on the beach but me. The rain has people scuttling indoors hoisting jackets overhead to ward off the damp and chill. I take my shoes off first, then peel off my socks one at a time. My feet look pale and ghostly against the dark, wet sand. My toenails are beaten and raw from all the running I've been doing. "What are you running from?" a friend of mine always jokes. I'm not running away from anything, anymore. Rather, I'm running toward a life that is quietly lovely. Beautiful, without trying to be.
A few nights ago, I painted my toenails robins egg blue in an attempt to cover up the bruising. It doesn't hurt to lose a toenail, not like I thought it would. They just fall right off, another, new toenail already growing beneath. Sort of like losing a baby tooth, or discarding an ill-fitting sweater.
Down the block is a nail salon where I lost a toenail recently. The nail technician was running behind schedule and had me wait with my feet in hot water for a very long time. When she started removing my toenail polish, one of my nails came off in her hands. Her eyes grew wide but she didn't say anything. I hoped she wasn't horrified.
Here, on the beach, I walk toward the water, letting it run over my ugly toes, over my feet, up my calves. It's cold, but the water is always cold here. It's cold and grey and rainy and there is nobody here but me. There is nothing on the water as far as I can see, and the only thing I can hear is the gentle slap of the waves. Being near the ocean is supposed to have a calming effect, and right now, I feel as if I've pressed my ear up to the heartbeat of our planet. In, out. Crash, calm. Forever.
Haruki Murakami said "Whenever I look at the ocean, I always want to talk to people, but when I'm talking to people, I always want to look at the ocean." I feel that way now. Like I want to share this moment, and this ocean, with someone, if only so they can feel the sweet, grey foreboding and taste it with me. And yet, if someone were here, I'd wish they weren't. The ocean looks lonely up here, above everything. But beneath the surface is a wild unknown, full of brutality and beauty; wonder and pain. Captivating, without trying to be.
I felt my phone buzz in my back pocket. A phone call from someone, hopefully, someone I love. Life was pulling me back in, out of my dazed ocean stupor and into the reality of work and phone calls, text messages, and the never-ending endeavor toward relentless forward progress. If you're not growing, you're hurting. And, if you're hurting, you will fester and burn not only yourself, but everyone around you.
When I was very young, I used to wonder what was more powerful-fire or water. Fire was more frightening to me, hot and fast and deadly. I was warned about fire. What to do if I was ever caught in one, how to be mindful of matches. Stop, drop, roll, run. But water never terrified me. Water was a sprinkler in the yard in the summertime. Water was rain and lakes; puddles and melting snow. Water was hardly an imposing and dangerous thing.
But here, right now, looking out over the endless grey ocean, I can't help but think that I had it all wrong. Water is the only thing that can kill fire. Water is fierce and dangerous, precarious and deeply prepossessing. Wonderous and foreboding, without even trying.