It's one of those things you can't put into words because there's no one thing about it. And, it's something that you can "feel". Perhaps one of the most amazing parts of visiting South Carolina since I've been coming here over these past few years has been the opportunity it has provided to spend some quality time at or near the ocean.
I remember one of the first times we visited the beach here in South Carolina. It was nighttime and we packed flashlights. The ocean is different at night and as we strolled along the beach there was all kinds of movement barely visible in the moonlight. The crabs that come out at night were "strolling" - very very cool. That section of beach has become a special place for me for a number of reasons.
My big sister, Kate, took me to the ocean near the Bay Area when I first visited her back in 2000. It was my first visit to San Francisco and we strolled along the beach with surf pounding on a chilly, foggy, windy, misty morning it was one of those times when all the senses seemed to realize they were all working together. The feeling, smell, taste, and memory of that morning are things I'll never forget. And, the fact that we actually found a message in a bottle half buried in the sand made it even more memorable.
If you look back over my blog over the past several years you'll notice a number of special events that happened at beaches. Today was one of them.
I refuse to turn this trip into some melancholy, soul-sapping, sad exercise of retreat. It's not about retreat - it's actually about moving forward. As I've written in the past I have come to truly enjoy this area and I expect to find/make reasons to be back here again. Part of the reason is the city of Charleston itself - it's a beautiful, picturesque, unique city. And, part of it is the relationship that it has with the ocean.
I think part of this appreciation is something that comes with maturity. I lived in Nova Scotia for several years in my late teen years and couldn't wait to leave it. People came from all over the world to see Peggy's Cove and some of the other incredible waterfront experiences that are available there but I was pretty oblivious to it all. I'm hoping to get back there one of these days as part of this need to reconnect with my past but that's another story for another time.
It's far more complicated than simply the ocean and the beach and I'm sure that to people who've lived in the area for most of their lives it's probably something they don't even realize. But for those of us who are "visitors" it's really fascinating, very profound, and something truly special. Somehow when I look across some of the areas near the shoreline I can't help but imagine what they look like during Hurricane force winds which seem to be an annual threat up and down the entire coast but I'm glad I haven't been through that.
Anyway, the reason I mention any of this is that yesterday was a day full of doing things that needed to be done - going down a list of things that needed to be retrieved, packed, closed, or otherwise ended. I had dinner with a dear friend I've known for 25 years - she attended my ex-wife's baby shower for my son, that's how long I've known her. Anyway, after a long day of working through all of these "endings" it was wonderful to take a shower, put on a dress, to meet up with her, and to spend some time reminiscing, laughing, catching up, and generally having a very pleasant evening. Her timing couldn't have been better.
I've mentioned before that one of my life philosophies is recognizing that life is 10% of what happens and 90% of how you deal with it. I decided to make today a day of spiritual nourishment; not of endings but of beginnings. I brought a small baggie with me on this trip that contained two things: (1) a small container of some of my father's ashes and (2) a rose that was given to me as part of a bouquet for Mother's Day. So - I was up early and headed for this special section of beach on Sullivan's Island to sprinkle the ashes and the rose in the early morning tide.
It has taken me quite a while to actually be able to look at the ashes. The first time I took some of them to sprinkle - at the Grand Canyon - the "chunkiness" of the ashes made me queazy. That is, there are white "chunks" in it that could be tooth, bone, or any number of things. I can't but it into words other than to say that knowing that this was all part of the body that was my dad - it was hard to get used to that. Now it's not a problem, but getting comfortable with it has been a journey.
So - I get to the beach, roll up my pants, take off my flip-flops, grab the small baggie of ashes and rose, and I stroll out into the water to a point where the surge of the surf gets my pants wet. I close my eyes - say some personal things to my dad and to God - and let the ashes go into the water. They shimmered like silver as they blended with the surf - it was magical.
The rose, on the other hand, didn't want to go. When I made my way back to shore and collected myself I turned and there it was, lying on the beach. I took it back out a little way in hopes it would find it's way but no - it came back. And, this scene of the vast beach meeting this vast ocean meeting this vast sky - with that one red rose that came halfway across a continent to be there - is one I'll never forget.
I took a picture of it with my phone. I wish the photo could do the nature of it all justice....
It was a magical morning. And, it was the first time I've sprinkled my dad's ashes and I haven't cried. I felt empowered more than sad. It was really good.
I can think of any symbolic ways to try to explain what happened this morning, this resilient red rose sitting in the sand with the vastness of beach and ocean and sky in the background. All I'm really left with is the fact that it was important to do, and I'm glad to have been able to do it given all the other "tumult" in my life lately. This has been a very strong thing and, as much as anything, is reason for being here today.
The ocean can be symbolic of many things. For me - it is a symbol of tides. Tides of life. Tides of forces pushing and pulling beyond our control. Cycles. My life seems to be going through some interesting cycles many of which I won't or can't control. They're just part of the way things are....
And then, after I did what I came to do - I left. I'm gone.