The sea casts a net to find me. It sends salt out over the hills, a fine mist that clouds windows and sticks in throats. It glimmers, a blue jewel in the distance. I don’t come.
Michael drives me past the beaches on dreary winter afternoons. Come, says the sea. Come. But I turn my face away.
I dream of it sometimes, a giant swell that comes to eat the shore. It pulls at me, lifts me up, tugs me out into its great expanse, but I always pull free.
I am a sticky-fingered child. I am an unfulfilled promise. I am hiding and I don’t know why.
Months pass and the call becomes easier to ignore. I’m busy. I’m waiting. I’m losing myself in other things. But the sea is patient. Endlessly, it pulls and tugs, endlessly it calls, reeling me in.
It hits me like a thunderclap. It’s time to go back to the sea. It fills my mind, drowning all thought, and I can’t ignore it, not anymore.
I don’t want to.
I go one morning, early, and the wind is so cold it wrings me out, pulling the moisture from my bones. I watch from a distance at first, viewing it from over a coffee mug I hug to my chest to keep warm. The sea, the sea, the sea, my heart sings, and I don’t know why I have left it so long.
It’s like this: coming home after a long absence. In my travels I have loved other places and other things, but I know no love like this. Long ago, when I was a child, a lonely corner of my soul got snagged there, and though I wander I feel stretched thin until I make it back. I am home. I am home and I don’t know why I ever left.
Except, I do. In my heart, I do know why. It’s because I allowed myself to feel old for a moment. Because I was waiting for news and hope felt like a faraway thing, a bird perching on souls other than mine.
But I know now, hope is not a thing that visits and leaves you wanting. It is a mark on your skin, forged through disappointment and failure, and it only grows deeper the longer you fight. Hope is a battle scar. And I wear mine with pride.
I go back to the sea. I crawl right up to its frigid edges and I feel it fill me again, that lightness, that letting go. The sea purges me. It washes me clean. It welcomes me back without judgement, without rebuke. The sea is ageless and I have not been gone so long.
It receives me gladly, with gifts and good tidings. And this: A sliver of glass, the colour of the sea at its edges, worn down over 20 or 30 years and more beautiful for it. I’ve never found one before. Never, in all my life. It means something, that I’ve found it now.
I go back again the next day. I spent a whole day there, exploring beaches and cliffs, watching the waves pound upon the shore. I cry sometimes because it’s more ferocious and lovely than I remembered. Some people find God in a church. Some in the work of their hands or in the pages of books. I have always, always found God in the sea.
Then comes a day when I run out of time. The sea calls and I don’t go to it because I am an adult, and I feel the press of adult things. I do chores. I run errands. I go to work. I see the corner of blue at the end of my street and my snagged soul can do nothing but stretch a little further.
But Michael knows me and he knows my heart, and in the dead of night, when I return home from work, he bundles me into the car. He drives me, heartsick and wanting, towards the thing that feeds me. He takes me back to the sea.
“I am losing precious days,” said John Muir. “I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.”
I have learned to love the mountains, but I will always, always, heed the call of the sea.