Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Within the first few breaths of that salty ocean air, I feel my lungs tingle, my muscles relax, and my heart finds a familiar rhythm in the waves.
Because we've been coming to the beach since I was a child, those waves hold memories that churn up against each other, the past and present getting tossed together like tiny seashells. Over the years, the force of the water and time whittles them down and eventually deposits them back on shore. As I walk the beach, I see glimmers of those memories sparkling like shells in the sun. Sometimes, I can grab them before the next wave comes rolling in, but other times they retreat into the sea, teasing me with their barely visible edges.
My kids are beach creatures as well, easily spending hours jumping up and down in the waves, body surfing back to shore, and digging for shells in the wet sand. We walk together down the same beach I visited with my parents at their age, and the memories stretch out in front and behind us as far and wide as the sea itself.
I sit down to watch them splash in the water and in the crash of the waves against the shore, I hear the crack of the dice against the side of the backgammon board, my dad and his best friend locked in a heated game more than three decades ago, the afternoon sun gleaming off the intricate, mother-of-pearl inlaid tiles.
As the waves retreat in a fizzy farewell, I can almost taste the icy cold cans of Fresca we'd drink by the case, the citrusy bubbles soothing our throats in the midday heat. I hear laughter and sometimes I can't quite tell where it's coming from- past or present? My kids or my childhood? In the end, it doesn't really matter.
Every trip to the ocean reminds me of the one my own parents crossed, of what they brought with them, and what they were forced to leave behind. The water gives so much life and joy, but it also separates and divides, carves canyons from rock.
Just a few weeks before our trip this year, our close-knit Egyptian community was rocked by the sudden, unexplainable death of a bright, young star. Just 34 years old, his light was extinguished before it even had the chance to dazzle in the way everyone who knew him knew was his destiny. His loss felt like a giant tidal wave that swept over us, uprooting everything in its path, including destiny. The normal order of generations was undone as a mother buried her son, and children held their parents close. Feelings ran to extremes but words held no meaning. How could love hurt so much?
I longed to let the salty ocean water wash over all of us and carry this grief back down to its depths. I needed reassurance from the pull of the tides that the forces of nature were still in their proper places. I ached for the beach.
One night during our trip we went for an evening walk under the full moon. I held my daughter's hand as the surf tickled our ankles. My legs were heavy as the grief was still there, holding on, refusing to be cast off into the sea. We stood for a long time letting the waves roll in and out and eventually, I did feel its grip loosen slightly. I watched our footsteps appear and disappear in the sand, and said a silent prayer that the beach would hold them forever just below the surface.