I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
Sea Fever by John Masefield, verse 2
I went home last weekend, home in the sense of the place where the stars are all in the right place and where the air carries light scent of the sea. I was raised in southwest Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico, and there is so much there that reminds me of who I am.
I’ve lived in Michigan 30 years now, and I went down for my niece’s wedding. Of course I was looking forward to the event and helping my sister with the details. But I was also looking forward to a long and solitary walk on the beach.
As a toddler I rode sea turtles on these isolated beaches 60 years ago. In elementary school I spent summers sleeping on the porch of a cottage we rented at Fort Myers beach, lulled to sleep by the sound of the surf. As a young man I would drive out to the beach to watch a tropical storm come in, standing alone in the raging wind and rain. The power of it, and the vastness of it, gives me energy and hope. And solitude.
Solitude is something we all need, and the beach is a place I find it. There are still places where you can walk miles without seeing anyone.
Except this trip I didn’t. I drove down Manasota Key one day, right before lunch, but it was too hot and there were too many people. (I’m kind of picky about my beach experiences.) And I sat on my sister’s porch one afternoon, looking out at the bay while I caught up on some email. (A bay doesn’t count.)
The trip was too short and the obligations were too many. And the relationships were too important. My cousin was at the wedding. And I drove to Naples Sunday afternoon to visit Aunt Mary, who taught me what sea shells to keep and which ones to throw away. I sat up till after midnight talking with college friends Paul and Debby; Paul was the best man in my wedding over 40 years ago.
I stayed with Bill and Ann, friends who had been members of my father’s church. I met my niece Krista’s fiancee Justin and my nephew Ryan’s girl friend Meredith. I laughed with my nephew Corey and niece Myra, laughed until I cried. I enjoyed working along side my sister’s friends. Because they are my friends too. I helped my brother-in-law Kent pick up and return tables and chairs for the wedding reception. And finally I spent time with my sister Toy, who after a season of unusual stress and challenge has begun to heal.
I could have walked on the beach. But I chose to restore relationships rather than to restore myself. One gives energy and one takes energy. But both are necessary. It’s a metaphor for life itself.
But I’ll be back. The sea will always be there for me.
It is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.