(Note – this post was a bit delayed by a bout of food poisoning, but I will go ahead a share it anyhow, despite it having absolutely nothing to do with Christmas Eve).
On Sunday my little family made the annual 350 mile Christmas trek from Mountain View, in the Silicon Valley, to Thousand Oaks, nestled in the calm Southern California suburbs. The seven hour trip is a fixture in our late December because the grandparents’ homes span nearly half of the vast length of the Golden State (That’s right, Italian friends, this single state is significantly longer than the entire, beautiful country of Italy).
We generally try to work a few stops into this day-long journey (to stretch our legs and preempt excessive back seat whining from the littlest Rices), and this trip we set the beach at Santa Claus lane as our penultimate destination. Not only is the name for this little bit of beachy bliss holiday appropriate; it is also just outside the gates of the lovely garden where Tyler and I were married over 13 years ago, and we like to come visit occasionally to steep in happy reminiscences.
We arrived a little before sunset to be greeted by a scene that comes close to my ideal for natural beauty. The long stretch of soft, pale sand curved in a lazy embrace around the gently rushing movement of the ocean waters, welcoming the playful pull on scattered shells, and rocks, and seaweed with an indulgent smile across to the dipping sun, as it cast warm golden rays in a low trajectory to dance lightly across the aquatic surface, leaving little sparkling footprints as evidence of reciprocal appreciation for the playful Pacific. I took a deep breath and tried to release the tension that has been digging icy claws into my back and shoulders for the past few months.
The children had no such need for intentional relaxation. They were all wiggly exuberance to dispense with shoes and socks and jump into a squealing game of tag with the encroaching waves. Their effortless play was pure joy and I bit my tongue when the inevitable wetting of clothing occurred. Just let them play, I told myself. It’s not a tragedy if they make the rest of the trip bare-legged.
Tyler shares the children’s enviable ability to shake off cares and dive into moments of pure pleasure (what a joy to be married to a man like that!). He happily joined in the romp, shrugging at the icy chill of the December water and laughing at the antics of the little ones. Then, his face glowing from the exercise and the simple joy of playing with his children in such an idyllic context, he tossed a light question to me as though it were a ball that I could toss back just as easily. “Can’t you just imagine writing here? You’d be so inspired!”
The simple answer to that question, of course, is “Yes!” It would be a fulfillment of so many dreams to settle on the Santa Barbara coast, to be able to bring our children to play in the waves any time we wished, and (most of all?) to be able to factor the inspiration of a given context into our decision about where to live, because that would mean I was actually able to contribute to the family income with my writing. That thought, however, reclenched the anxious claws of worry that I had been trying to shrug off.
What am I going to do for work, now that we are back in the States?
The busy-ness of the move has largely shoved this question to the back of my consciousness in the last weeks. I have to get through the move first — packing, travelling, Christmas, settling the kids in school, unpacking at the New Jersey house — I have enough to worry about right now. I’ll work on the big, blank question of WORK once I manage the rest of my tasks. Still, the question is there, and now that we have landed in my homeland I am finding it harder and harder to push it into the shadows.
Now it intruded into the peace and beauty of my sunset on the beach. I tried to ignore the nagging tug of uncertainty about my future, but it stubbornly clung to my feet, dragging behind me as we trudged across the sand for a peek at our wedding garden then back to the car. I tried to call to the waves to pull it away. I tuned my ear to their rushing voice, willing them to wash my soul with peace. Then I raised my eyes to see a striking image of that peace half-crouched on the sand in front of me. A man of approximately middle age was practicing tai chi. In preparation for his practice he had built for himself a sacred space, dragging his foot or a thick piece of driftwood through the sand to dig out circles of ever-decreasing circumference until he stood alone at the center.
I directed the Gigglemonster’s feet in an arching path to avoid the sacred circles and of course drew from him a query about “what the man is doing?” I didn’t really think about my response; it rose unbidden to my lips, perhaps called forth by the very waves I had been calling to. “That’s his was to talk to God, Honey.”
I don’t know whether he would have in fact embrace that simple summary, but it spoke truth to me. The natural beauty of this place was not self-enclosing; it did not speak to me with its own voice. Rather, it echoed a far deeper voice, the voice of the Creator. And, as I looked through the sunset to the Light that ignites it, the waves pulled a poem from my soul to answer my questions and offer me peace.
Tai Chi and Ocean Listening
Concentric circles in the sand
connecting dance with earth and sky.
“That is his way to talk to God,”
I answer my son’s perpetual why?
Can nature also help me hear?
Can waves and sunset stir my soul?
If I stand still to listen here,
will God’s voice speak to make me whole?
The rush of life is not a lie.
There’s need for my quotidian pace,
but rushing sound can also calm
and blinding light caress my face.
The ocean waves they call to me.
With crash and pull the cadence breathes,
“Awake to rest! You have come home,
your fears to still, your cares to ease.”
They speak in memories of youth,
of carefree frolics in the waves.
My grown eyes watch my children dance
my steps of glee from yesterday.
I danced so free upon a time
when future was just as unknown.
For trust defined my childhood life.
Why, with blessed life, has trust not grown?
Now can I learn such faith again?
Can advent teach the peace and hope
that till the ground for love and joy?
Can my feet step out on that rope?
The still small voice finds in this place
a way to break through stress and fear:
“The One who sings the ocean tides
can speak a path your soul will hear.”