Yesterday was a scorcher by Maine standards. Temperatures in the upper 80’s sent those of us without central air-conditioning scurrying to the beach. My two boys and I were among the earliest to arrive. Traveling down a winding, narrow road to reach a far-away, sprawling spot on the ocean with tumbling waves and a desert like quality, felt like an adventure. Once we arrived we were like camels making our way from the parking lot to a distant tide pool a football field’s length from the entrance. Even from our tide pool we were still another long stretch away from the rolling waves. It was worth the journey. My boys—Jonah with his wide rimmed, navy blue sun hat, Adrian with his ripe orange baseball cap—took their buckets, shovels and wave board into the shallow pool and were busy at play within moments. Adrian piled sand ice cream into his bucket while Jonah pulled the buckets around on top of the board. I set out our blanket and then lying back on the small bag I had packed, took in the rocky cliffs in the distance thinking about the turn of events that brought me there alone with my two boys instead of where we had planned to be—back in the place where I grew up, surrounded by family, cuddling my little niece and nephew who I missed like a drought misses rain and hadn’t seen since winter winds were blowing snowdrifts at Christmastime.
I was sitting in the parking lot of a very large adventure travel store when I received the call. My husband had run into the store to pick up a last item for our travels. The following day he was heading West for eight days for work and I was heading to a family summer home to be with my sisters, their children and my parents. I was looking forward to the companionship. I was looking forward to the comfort of “home.” I was looking forward to the fun of all of our children being together. A few days before, my son Jonah had come down with a virus that gave him two painful sores in the back of his mouth and a low-grade fever. He was feeling well enough to travel though and my sisters had agreed that exposing their children was not ideal but that we should come anyway and just be mindful of washing hands, of separating sippy cups. I had not thought about my Mom, though. I had not thought of the terrible illness she had battled this past winter and how exposing her to something now—even something minor in the world of childhood illnesses—would not have been wise. With an immune system compromised, she could be a magnet for such a virus. She told me as much when she called. She didn’t want to say those words—she wanted to say anything but those words—but she had to and in the blink of an eye we were staying home for the next eight days without any activities planned and quarantined from our friends because of the illness. My husband would be 3,000 miles away. I sat stunned in the car wondering how I would break the news to Jonah who was deep in sleep in his carseat now.
I spent the afternoon and early evening mourning the loss of precious time with those I love so much—time that we have so little of. I felt angry, too. I wanted to blame someone but there was no one to blame. I cried and thought about how hard it would be to shift gears and refocus. I told my sisters and Mom that I was looking for the silver-lining but I couldn’t find it. By nightfall, though, I knew that I had a decision to make. I knew that I could easily spend the next week regretting every moment not spent with family, or I could lift up these precious days and discover their purpose. My greatest concern was with how I would remain present and responsive—not reactive—to the mercurial nature of my children for—what to me felt like—a long stretch of time. I bow down to the wives of deployed servicemen for whom this is their nearly constant state.
At the beach, we were a few days into our time alone together and we were finding our rhythm. With our self-imposed quarantine and everyone feeling better now we were completely free to roam and go and play as we wished. We eventually left our tide pool and made our way down to the crashing shoreline. Jonah timidly dipped his toes in and observed his board bouncing around in the waves. I sat with Adrian and followed my breath noticing the way my stomach, my chest rose and fell with the waves. We meandered down little paths of water that flowed along the sand into bigger and bigger tide pools. We found ourselves finally in one pool deep enough to soak our bodies in and for Jonah to float on his wave board. I should have been tired—Adrian had made a before dawn wake-up call that morning—but instead I felt invigorated. I was pulling Jonah on his wave board from one end of the pool to the other and suddenly I began running with him in tow, splashing a good amount of water up onto my legs and some even onto my face. Adrian was in a very shallow part of the pool, lying on his stomach, propped up on his forearms. His face was filled with a grin. Soon I discovered that if I ran with Jonah for a long stretch and then suddenly let go of the string that was pulling him he would go sailing ahead of me with delight, riding on his board up onto the sand like a surfer with so much momentum. I was doing this for him over and over and at one point I was running and I could feel the water splashing my face and I could hear the pure joy in Jonah’s laughter and I could see Adrian luxuriating in the water and I let Jonah go and then I just stopped and I looked up into the sky. I stopped and I looked into the sky.
It was so vast.
It was so vast.
I could feel my heart beating from running and I could feel my heart expand.
It was so vast and beautiful and miraculous it took my breath away.
I felt alive.
I felt so very alive and I knew in that moment what it meant to live.
I knew the ecstasy that is complete oneness with life.