Do You Belong to the Sea?
Whenever I consider moving to another part of this world, it is as though a giant hand grips my heart fiercely and constricts it, warning, “You could never survive away from the sea.” I know that is true. I belong to the sea. The sea is part of me and I am part of the sea. Okay, so I was born in Rhode Island, the Ocean State, and have lived here most of my life. At this point, in fact, I live in Newport, Rhode Island, which is an island, so I am surrounded by ocean. Every day I drive over two bridges to get to and from work. But every night, as I cross the last bridge, I open the window and breathe in the salty sea, sighing with gratitude that I am home. In fact, I love to introduce friends from other places, who have never seen the ocean, to see it for the very first time.There is always that sense of awe, of wonder, of majesty.
For a brief time I did live away from the ocean, in rural Pennsylvania, the closest ocean the Jersey shore, about eight hours away. Pennsylvania has lakes. They have a huge manmade lake, Raystown lake, which is beautiful. But it isn’t the ocean. Whenever I travel to a new place, if it is near the ocean, I have a ritual that I have to go swimming, have to immerse myself in the sea of that new place. It is like renewing my baptism. I remember the first time I travelled to the West Coast, to California. I had just been through a difficult divorce. I felt compelled to swim in the Pacific Ocean.
Many years later when I travelled to Ireland, my friends and I had flown all night long, so they fell asleep on the beach, but I could not sleep. I sat entranced by the ocean, and was greeted by whales! A few years ago, when I travelled to Turkey and Greece, I swam in the Mediterranean Sea, then the Aegean Sea.
It was on a history-making swim, from a huge sailing vessel which anchored near the Isle of Santorini, that the Aegean Sea washed away some deep wounds from my past, and I finally felt healed. The ocean does that.
What is it about the ocean that calms the soul, that brings healing, which literally means “wholeness”? I think it is three things. First, it is the vastness of the ocean that brings peace and healing. No matter how big your problems, the ocean is bigger. Scientists say the ocean depths are one of the only unexplored parts of this planet! About a year ago I read in the news that a new creature had been discovered by oceanographers, that is considered to be one of the most ancient creatures that still exists. Only a year ago, did they discover it, because the ocean is that vast! Just last month I learned that Jacques Cousteau’s son recently discovered, in the depths of the sea, a species of fish that swam right up to the scuba divers who were part of his expedition, and were so friendly, they let the scuba divers pet them! Sadly, he concluded that this is because they live so far from human life, that they had not yet learned our destructive ways, so did not yet fear us human beings. Gazing at the open ocean is like gazing at the stars on a dark black night. It smacks us upside the head with the fact that in the grand scheme of things, we are pretty small, and our puny human problems comparatively inconsequential.
Second, the sea is the source of life. It is teeming with life. My husband and I walk on the beach no matter what the weather. In fact, summer is our least favorite season for walking on the beach, because of the crowds. In the winter, we just bundle up. We like the fierce, bracing winds on our faces, waking us up, reminding us that we are alive!
Years ago, when I was on retreat one December, at a place called Our Lady of Peace, in Narragansett, RI,I was going through one of the hardest times in my life. I walked every day in frigid cold, on Narragansett Beach. There was a man who was also on retreat, who was an oceanographer. He said to me that during the winter, when everything else in nature hibernates, and it might look like the ocean is hibernating, it is actually teeming with new, microscopic life that is being birthed. I took that as a metaphor for my own life. I let the ocean renew me and bring me to a place of new birth.
Finally, I think the ocean brings us to a place of calm and of wholeness because of the rhythms of its waves. The ceaseless ebb and flow of the tides is like the mantra OM, a universal breath in, then out, in, then out, in, then out. There is no music more beautiful to my ears. The aviator and writer Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of aviator Charles Lindbergh, wrote a little book my mother liked, called, “The Gift from the Sea.” She wrote it after the kidnapping and death of her twenty-month old son, Charlie. She too felt that the sea helps us to heal, to be made whole again. I remember she said it is because we ourselves are mostly made of water, so are also influenced by the moon’s pull on the tides, by the rhythms of the waves. I remember she also said the ocean heals us because it contains so much salt. When we cry, we taste the salt of our tears, and we know that the ocean and we are one.
When I die I want my organs to go to whoever needs them. I want the rest of my body to be cremated, and cast into the sea. The first time I scattered someone’s ashes at sea, I was surprised that they did not feel like ashes at all, but rather like crushed seashells. Others tease me and say, “Oh, you will just become fish-food.” I like that. It reminds me of the Buddhist tale about death. They tell the story of a salt doll, who longed to become greater than the little salt doll that she was. She travelled to the sea, and walked toward the waves that lapped the shore. As she dipped one toe into the wave, she felt a part of herself dissolve. But there was some inexplicable longing inside her to keep walking, to wade deeper into the ocean. With each step, more and more of her dissolved, until she was gone. Now she is the ocean. As I write this I hear the rhythm of the waves. I am home, here by the sea. Someday, like the salt doll, I too shall be the ocean.
This day may you see the holy in all you encounter, and may you reflect the holy to all you encounter. Linda Forsberg, Copyright November 19, 2014
Photos: Linda at the Mediterranean Sea; Newport, RI; the Pacific Ocean, Torrey Pines, CA; Linda swimming in the Mediterranean Sea; the Aegean Sea;the day of Ted’s baptism, December 27, 2004, Second Beach, Newport, RI; Ted, morning prayer, in Kauai; Linda on Second Beach, Newport, RI