I married a man from the West Coast who loves the ocean. I use the word “love” but even that seems to be an understatement. He has a spiritual connection to the water. It’s as if the life force of the ocean is connected to his own wellbeing.
I do not feel that way. That vast blue space where the horizon looks like the edge of the world, only makes me want to back up closer to land. I’ve always been afraid of what was lurking below the surface. Everything about the ocean seems terrifying and overwhelming.
When we were first getting to know one another, I mentioned that if I could live anywhere, it would be the desert. I’m obsessed with the desert’s beauty and rock formations. My husband, the professor, stared at me like I’d lost my mind.
We put our water vs. land division aside. “I can live anywhere,” I proclaimed. And I meant it. I love the mountains, forest, desert, roaming fields, small towns, big cities, you name it. Anywhere but by the ocean.
After we were married a couple of years, a university position far from water was offered to the professor that he couldn’t turn down. I jumped for joy.
We still had to take our yearly pilgrimages to the ocean so that he could get his “fill” for the year. Believing that our children could get swept out to sea, I was never excited about going to the beach. The outing is always the same.
“What’s that smell?” I ask with my shirt pulled up over my nose.
The professor glares at me. “Don’t start.”
But I can’t help it, the scent of seaweed and fish makes me what to gag. Seeing the washed up seaweed lining that shore, I ask, “Can’t a truck with a big rake come by and scoop all this up so that the beach can be perfectly clean?”
He looks at me in horror. “It’s a natural habitat!”
“What about that stuff floating on top of the water way out there? Can’t a boat with a net drag it away?”
He ignores me.
“I’ve read that seals are actually not friendly like Sparky is at Sea World. They bite if you get too close to them and they draw sharks into the shore.”
“The boys won’t go out that far. They won’t get eaten.” He walks ahead to go and stand on the shoreline, staring out to I don’t know what, while I set up.
I find a spot on the beach directly in front of the life guard tower, plunk myself under a family size umbrella, clothed in my special SPF 50 long sleeve shirt and wide brimmed beach hat, then watch for the impending deaths of my children.
They all know better than to ask me to come in the water. I sit and watch.
The plan was to someday in the future move back. That is, when the kids are grown and have moved on. Then life happened and I got breast cancer.
Reminded of our fragile mortality, the professor declared, “I don’t want to put off dreams any longer. I need to move back to the ocean. I feel like I’m dying here.”
This is when the word love becomes a verb, a thing of action. Everyone knows the qualities that make up love, but I think loving someone requires risk and sacrifice. You jump off that cliff together because you’re together. Looking at this person that I loved with all my heart, who I knew was never fully happy, all I could say was, “Let’s do it.”
Breaking the news to the kids did not go as expected. Our oldest proclaimed, “You’re ruining my life!” Our middle child was frozen with fear of the unknown, and hated the idea of moving from his grandparents that live only a couple minutes away. Our youngest shrugged his shoulders and wanted to know if he could bring his stuffed bears.
When announcing our plan to move, the majority of people were shocked. A friend summoned it up perfectly. “You mean, you’re changing jobs and uprooting your kids from the only home they’ve ever known, to move to a place where you don’t know a single person, have no connections to doctors or dentists and know nothing about the schools?”
Excited and nervous, we decided to visit the town we had agreed on before moving in a few months to try to calm everyone’s fears. Following Google maps, we located the different schools and found where to get groceries. Driving around and familiarizing ourselves made everyone feel better.
However, it wasn’t until we went to the ocean that it all clicked in place. For the first time, the boys noticed how the professor looked when gazing out to the water. They got it. Our oldest came to me and said, “I’ve never seen dad look like that. Let’s move.”
One of my favorite bible passages came to mind. It’s the conversation between Naomi and Ruth. Naomi is telling Ruth to go ahead and live her life, but Ruth who rejects it because she couldn’t be happy anywhere if they weren’t together, says “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people…” (Ruth 1:16) The passage is about devotion, loyalty and being a family. One’s happiness is dependent upon the other.
Each of us knew the move was right, even our youngest, when they saw the professor’s face. We are a family and our happiness is dependent upon everyone following their dreams.
My fears have not diminished. I will not go in the water. But it will all pale in comparison to the new joy and life in the professor. As we stood watching the water, I put my arms around him, and said the only thing I could, “Where you go, I go. Where you stay, I will stay.”
Let the adventure begin.