Every summer the family and I venture up from Virginia to the Jersey Shore – Ocean City, to be precise – for our annual Beach Week vacation.
I both love and hate this week. I love it because it’s fun to see family. It’s delightful to swish my toes in the sand. It’s exhilarating to go to Atlantic City and play the slots, even though I lose. Every time. And it’s scrumptious to devour all the food treats available at the shore, such as pizza, crumb cake, frozen yogurt, and more.
Which is also why I hate the shore. Because I love to eat, and it shows. I am not a small person. So walking on the boardwalk in the hot sun is not always appealing. Watching all the thin, beautiful people looking so relaxed and at ease in their bathing suits inspires jealousy. And having to put on said bathing suit and appear at the beach is positively disheartening.
I thought of all of that as I stared out at the ocean last week. I thought of all that, of all the reasons I felt uncomfortable in my body at that very moment, and then looked out at the sea again. Really looked. The sea is huge. It is immense. And next to it, I am a tiny blip. Tiny. The sea is vast. The sea is powerful. And next to it, I and my body – and all my worries, all my anxiety, all my fears – are nothing. How wonderfully freeing is that?
I stood there, soaking in the sight of the waves bashing against the shore, the sounds of the seagulls chattering over the roar of the ocean, the smell of the sand and the water and the sea life and whatever else mixes together to create that unmistakable shore scent, the feel of the sand and water on my toes… and I thought about writing. About how I really am just a grain of sand. I’m just a single drop of water in an ocean of people creating stories and trying to get them published. My words, as much as I agonize over them, are no more than the little tiny clam working its way back down into the sand after being unearthed by the water – or a child. What he’s doing is important to him, but he’s so small compared to all the clams in all the world in all the beaches digging at that very moment. What I’m doing is important to me. It’s worth doing. But I can let go of the anxiety about it. Even were my words the size of whales, they would still just be a small part of a very large whole.
Some may see that as disheartening. I don’t. It was a well-timed reminder that in the grand scheme of things, all of my things are small. My body. My fears. My desires. My words. And because they are small, I can let go of the large fears they produce in me. I can let my writing be for me. Any time the panic and uncertainty well up, I can think back to those moments at the edge of the ocean, and the waves that pounded the shore.
Because that was the second feeling that overcame me. Smallness at first – a revelation in itself from someone who feels their body and their anxiety are often immense, all-encompassing, overwhelming, insurmountable. And then… repetition. Continuity. Consistency. Whether the tide was coming in or going out, the waves still came. Whether they were big or small, the waves still came. Whether we wanted them to (for boogie boarding) or not (for protecting sand castles), the waves still came. They persisted. They persevered. They were dependable, even when not always predictable.
That’s how I want my writing to be – dependable, even if not always predictable. Something that persists, that batters against that shore of worry and anxiety and fear and family obligations and kids’ needs and unending house chores. That keeps coming, whether I want it to or not. And I want to keep in mind as I ride those waves in my writing pursuits, whether I’m gliding in smoothly or being bowled over (as happened once this year), that even those waves are small in comparison with the huge expanse of the sea.
Thank you, ocean.