You know the familiar image of a person crawling to the finish line, panting for air, struggling to take just one last breath. Today feels that way. I just put the last kid to bed and the door opened approximately two minutes later, with someone hoping that my answer for a bedtime snack had changed. It had not.
I sit in a clean and quiet room, a small pile of boxes in the corner. The light is fading from another day of hot July heat. I hear rumbling in the air. Rain, if only for a moment, so I move to the porch swing and rock in the breeze that ushers the heavy drops that fall from the sky. That electric air is magic to me. I hope the lightning doesn’t find me and my computer. But, these days that feel so crazy require dramatic acts of survival. So I sit and feel. The rain slants to the left and mists over me. A bolt slices zigzagging light in the air and a crack that makes me jump sends six birds into the air. The trees full of leaves shake to the crescendo of the storm. In the wild commotion, I am soothed.
Tonight, I stood in the middle of their bedroom, after kissing freshly bathed heads and taking all the deep breaths that summoned any reserve of patience that may be hiding. I sang the words of To Make You Feel My Love., a favorite lullaby in our home. I pretend I sound like Adele and that I’m as poetic as Bob Dylan when he first penned the words. It’s these words that always get me,
The storms are raging on the rolling sea
And on the highway of regret.
The winds of change are blowing wild and free,
You ain't seen nothing like me yet.
I don’t even mind the use of “ain’t.” Bob Dylan gets all the exceptions he wants. They are something between an anthem and a prayer.
We got home from the beach yesterday. It was an unplanned trip, but one we desperately needed. One of us mentioned it and not in a casual way, but in a way that “we should go to the beach,” meant “I really need to meet God by the water, do you think we can make it happen?” We made it happen. It was a proper and bitter farewell to living four hours from the coast, knowing that our next home is every bit land locked. So many words were left unspoken that last morning as we reluctantly returned to the car, with feet covered in sand and hems of our shorts soaking wet. Words we didn’t really know how to say were replaced by the whining children who either never wanted to leave or wanted to be home that instant.
When I was a young girl, we would spill out of the car and run down the sandy shores of Lake Michigan. The waves were most often mild, but if you were lucky, they reached 4-5 feet. We would wait until just before they came crashing down on us and jump into them. The force would knock us off our feet and we would sink below the surface. Rising to the top again, we’d shake the water from our eyes and anticipate the next swell that would soon follow.
At the end of the day, toasted in the sun, our bodies would feel so exhausted and so free. We didn’t understand then how the power of the water beat away those extra things we carried. I am now trying to conjure up the difficulties of childhood and find them comical. But thankfully, the waves still hold that magic, so I handed the baby to my husband who already had two little kids clinging to his legs and waded out for a few brief moments. They were much too small for the waves this day, I needed to do this on my own. In the book, All The Light We Cannot See, one of the characters stands on the coast of France spellbound by the ocean and says, “I think the sea is big enough to contain everything a person might feel.” I’m glad of that, I have many feelings.
The swell rose higher and higher and at the just right time, we collided. I lost my footing and stumbled to stand. Salty water covered my face, I wiped it from my eyes. I tasted it on my lips and squealed. I could have done it for hours, but the luxury was not mine this day, so I grabbed my boy and carried him out. We didn’t go as far. I held him tight. We let the water jolt us. We were shaken and filled with laughter. I never let go. One wave met us when we weren’t looking and we were separated. We stumbled about, I quickly found his hand even though my footing was not secure. His face shined half with delight and have with trembling. I think that’s a good place to live though, brave and so alive, just past the comfort and safety. We crawled to the shore on our knees. His little sister begged for a turn. We took turns, the parents, holding the baby, and switching children.
Our North Carolina baby giggled and cooed a little melody that mirrored the rushing waves. I think it was a love song. Some things require no translation.
On the shore, I held them close and said, do you see how big the ocean is? No, I can’t even see it all, they would answer. Well, God loves us even more than the ocean. They were quiet and didn’t speak. Yet, what could one really need to say to that?
I collected all these moments in my head, these little field notes. The way Harper always flocked to the waves. The peace and restoration glowing on my husband’s face as he stood holding her hand, not moving from the spot their feet were planted, letting the water wash over them. How Hudson would gravitate to the gentle tide pool abounding with treasures to discover. And Clementine always trying to get in the water, to dig her fingers into the wet sand. These bits of wild, I’m tucking away for safe keeping, preserving all the magic and truth and light and life. Because life is a brilliant mix of crashing fully alive in the waves and crawling along, hoping with reckless abandon to make it through the day.
It’s dark now and these treasures have worked their magic, like the crashing waves, to shake off the heaviness of a long day. The storm has rolled on and the earth is hushed, drinking in the provisions left in its wake.
When we were driving home from the beach, all three kids with their necks in uncomfortable looking positions, sound asleep. We talked of life and dreams and the usual. The way that road trips and sleeping children allow for conversation is a beautiful thing. I don’t remember what I asked, something about eight years of marriage, but he answered, I like what we’re building here, motioning to the space in our Corolla, filled to the brim. I smiled in agreement, captivated my the summation of that sentence.
Oh, there’s so much I don’t know about the one million uncertainties ahead, but I keep hearing these lyrics in my head, (and I’m not even ashamed to say I was a big fan of the Dixie Chicks, not one little bit.)
I said I wanna touch the earth
I wanna break it in my hands
I wanna grow something wild and unruly
And maybe, just maybe, that is exactly what we’re doing.