Beach Reflections

Today wasn’t a beach day, though the weather was ideal for surf and sand. I spent most of the day at school preparing for teachers’ first official day back tomorrow. Fort Monroe beach was my second home this summer, and as it’s quickly being replaced by Kecoughtan High School, I feel the seasons changing absent a calendar. Writing doesn’t flow naturally tonight. Words aren’t forming themselves into playful analogies. To borrow from the song, “Back to life, back to reality” seems to be obstructing my creativity.

Trying to pack in the relaxation before diving back into our teacher routines, my friend Kyle and I hit the beach three times in the last week. Ninety-plus degree days, cool water, beach towels, and a Nicholas Sparks book are the perfect recipe for a leisure cocktail. We claimed “our spot” on Fort Monroe beach months ago. After its decommissioning in 2011, Fort Monroe was opened to the public. We forego the popular beach club a half mile up the shore in favor of a tranquil spot of open sand.

I’ve learned so much there about crabbers and cargo ships and tides… I even saw my first jelly fish and seahorse! Though we make camp in the same spot, the friends, drinks, and toys that accompany us alternate regularly. Sometimes my friend Angela and her family join us, and the day is full of laughter and splashing. Other times, Kyle’s roommates show up with soccer or footballs to toss around in the waves. When it’s low tide, there’s a sand bar that creates a natural kiddy pool of sorts, with salt water warmed by the sun where I love to lay out, half in and half out of the water sunbathing.   When the wind is strong, the waves are rough, ideal for body surfing.

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During the week, we have the beach largely to ourselves, even in the peak of summer.   Last Thursday was one such day. We stretched out our towels side by side, as always, then headed into the ocean. After we had sufficiently cooled off, we waded back to shore and deposited ourselves on our towels. Kyle’s current book was political in nature, as has been his obsession all summer.   With the gentle roar of the ocean, the sun at my back, and my toes nestled in the sand, I devoured the final chapters of The Choice by Nicholas Sparks.

In typical Sparks fashion, this book had a heart wrenching twist that drew tears from my eyes as it moved toward resolution. Reaching the last page, I wished it wouldn’t end. It was a deep, abiding love story, woven and developed over a few hundred pages. I fell in love with the leading characters’ love. We read to transport ourselves, if only momentarily, into another world. But the moment ended. The book ended. And though it resolved happily, I was anything but. A glance over to Kyle found him napping peacefully.

I traipsed down the shore and sat at the edge of the water, watching the waves break before me, sometimes over me. I added my tears to the ocean waters that encompassed me, fixated on the love of the characters in the novel. My brain wandered to another Nicholas Spark’s love story, The Notebook. During the credit roll in the movie theater after viewing the film for the first time over ten years ago, I wept in much the same way… so much so that the woman next to me asked if I was alright.

After exiting the building, that same woman came along side me as I walked to the parking lot, slipped her hand into mine, and said, “Love like that really does exist. And you don’t have to look for it. God already has him picked out for you.” Struck by her intuition, I wasn’t able to mutter more than a thank you. A week later, I had my first date with my first husband. Since there hasn’t been a second, I suppose there’s wishful thinking in that admission.

When I shared our love story, that woman’s words were always a part of it. Looking back, we never had “love like that”. We had a good friendship. Routines. Common interests. In the beginning, we had passion that faded effortlessly into dinner in front of the TV well before marriage. Truth be told, I’m not sure I would have recognized we didn’t have “love like that” until I had it with someone else. The use of past tense here grieves me. The relationship I had with the man I dated after my marriage ended was just like the love in the book and the movie… full of romance and activity, the stuff memories are made of. Dangle, preposition, for affect.

Dangle as I do, waiting for what comes after. My saltwater tears on Fort Monroe beach flowed for that reason. I believed that my husband was that love I didn’t have to look for, the one God had picked out for me. Yet, I dismissed my marriage, so there are two possible conclusions: my ex-husband was that man and I rejected God’s choice, or I’m hanging on the hope that He has another match for me somewhere. And if I follow the movie woman’s logic, this past summer spent looking for him was doomed to be fruitless. After all these words form themselves on the page, I’m left wondering why I put so much stock in that woman’s words, over a decade old.

Still, on the beach last week, I cannot deny how I craved for her words to be scripture. It would eradicate any responsibility on my part for my future happiness. It would mean that a “love like that” will find me, that there will be a husband and children and a front porch swing. It would equate trusting the hands of fate or of God or one and the same. And that’s where the equation leaves me resisting.   I grew up citing Proverbs, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight.”

My path has not been straight, and I swear that I trusted Him. The perilous state of my faith was less of a concern to me during my summer on the beach than picking out my second husband on eHarmony. Just beneath my level of consciousness, as I clicked “Hide match” for any potential who did not claim to be a Christian, I would simultaneously dismiss the state of my own faith. Faith in my Creator and a personal relationship with Him had guided the first three decades of my life, yet somehow following my divorce, I could no longer feel God’s presence. Perhaps I gave so much merit to that woman’s declaration because I shared her convictions at that time.

I now have few convictions. I believe in God, but I still feel nothing. Countless times over this eHarmony summer, my mother has left me with a simple suggestion. Pray about it. I’d much prefer my father’s suggestion. I called him on Thursday after I left the beach, and we joked about the lack of direction in my husband-seeking ventures. I am, after all, the last hope in preserving the full-blooded Italian genetics. So laughing, he agreed we should import an Italian man for me, as surely we have an eligible eighth cousin out there. Since we were dreaming, we resolved he should also be tall, handsome, wealthy, and Protestant.

Dreaming aloud is far easier than praying silently.

Beach days are coming to an end. The ocean will be replaced shortly by a sea of students flooding my classroom walls. The impertinent sand that finds its way home with me will be replaced by papers to grade on this white wicker love seat. The Nicholas Sparks’ novels that charm me with prospects of love will be replaced by essential literature and aspirations for my students to pass their end of course exam. Footballs and soccer balls will be replaced by ink pens and copy paper. Kyle won’t be by my ever-present confident, but my laptop instead.

And it is more than likely that the questions surrounding my faith will be superseded by requests for resources for our new English teachers and my obsession with finding my forever mate moved to the background as I focus on the leadership responsibilities that drive my school and student performance forward.

I learned a lot this summer on the beach about the world as the tides ebbed and flowed around me at Fort Monroe beach. It was there I came face to face with the immensity of faith and love. With the waves that rolled in came questions about faith and love. With beach days now behind me, the answers remain a mystery… for now.

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