It comes in waves

Glued into a photo album somewhere is a picture of me, at age eight or nine, hugging my knees and staring at the ocean thoughtfully. Half of my legs are covered by a red San Francisco 49ers sweatshirt, and my face is covered by a big pair of glasses and long, straight, sun-bleached hair. My family and I are vacationing at the Oregon coast from Sacramento. The cloudy day doesn’t bother me; beaches are among my favorite places in the world.

I’m drawn to the water. I’ve been climbing intertidal rocks in search of a high spot where I can sit apart from everybody for a while. As I often do, I want to be alone to think. What am I thinking about?

A few weeks ago I drove to the small town of Oceanside for a contemplative two-day spell. The weather was cool and verging on foggy, but it had stopped raining a day or two ago. I headed for the beach as if I had an appointment to keep. On a scarce patch of dry sand I stopped, laid out a towel, took off my shoes, opened a book, and let myself relax in the way I’d anticipated all morning. But I kept looking up from my book to the northern end of the beach, where a tunnel had been bored into a sea cliff. There was a neighboring beach on the other side. Overcome by curiosity, I packed up and went.

And I found rocks. All of them—from pebbles and sand grains underfoot, to large stones and boulders that emerged from below to cup themselves around tidepools—had been sculpted smooth by the constant churn and retreat of waves. I hurried up to them, looking downward for anemones and sea stars, and upward for places to sit. With sneakered feet I climbed onto one of the more inviting rock formations, careful to avoid patches that were slick with seawater, and found a perch where I’d be partially hidden from other beachgoers. I wanted to belong only to the water for a while, to study it as it swirled through and gave life to creatures that breathed from the rocks.

After the mid-afternoon fog came in and wiped away everything in the middle distance, I checked into a clifftop motel for the night. The room teased me with an ocean view that I couldn’t actually see, but I kept the sliding door open for as long as I could stand the chill, listening to the waves crashing less than 300 feet beneath me.

Morning revealed everything. The fog had dissolved and left me at the edge of the world. I slid open the door again and pulled up a chair in front of it. For another couple of hours, I sat and watched the ocean. What was I thinking about? The mysterious water-borne energy that forced itself into the continent in never-ending waves. The possibility of learning to feel, all the time, the way I felt just then: As if I were always in the presence of indescribable power and beauty. As if I truly knew the insignificance of things that created unhappiness in my life. As if my existence could be simultaneously small and enormous.

And I thought about love.

I thought about my days at the beach with the first person I’d ever fallen in love with, years ago, in Humboldt County where the coast is a twin to Oregon’s. He and I would sit and watch the waves, or throw a Frisbee back and forth, or lie on a blanket together and huddle against the breeze. Those outings brought a feeling of perfection that I can only come close to replicating on my own. When I get within reach of it, I notice a deep-down ache that tells me exactly what I want from romance. I want the feeling of eternity: the vision of my present, future, and newly revealed parts of my past captured in a gaze between two people. I want a love that alternates between chaos and stillness, but is anchored by something constant. I want a love that makes ordinary moments seem timeless. Like a person at the edge of the sea, I want to be in awe of a love that’s bigger than myself.

Tell me that I’m expecting too much, or that I’m being dramatic, and you may be right. But I can’t tone down my desires. At their peak, nothing less than the force of an ocean can compete with them.

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2 Comments

  1. Mike C.

     /  March 28, 2012

    “I want the feeling of eternity: the vision of my present, future, and newly revealed parts of my past captured in a gaze between two people. I want a love that alternates between chaos and stillness, but is anchored by something constant. I want a love that makes ordinary moments seem timeless. Like a person at the edge of the sea, I want to be in awe of a love that’s bigger than myself.”

    Beautiful prose that resonates deeply with me. I’m amazed at how well you articulate this feeling that constantly tugs at you. Being so clear about what you want should serve you well in finding it. I wish the you the best on your journey! =)

  2. kristenpdx

     /  April 3, 2012

    Thank you, Mike! All I can do is live as happily as possible, while hoping that this very particular desire will someday be met.

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