It was my first Southern experience, and about six years since I'd been to the ocean. I admit to being partial to Florida, but was slowly captured by the Carolina charm: there are at least a dozen radio stations playing country music and you can't really go anywhere without hearing it. People call you darlin' and say "bless your heart" without even having to know your name. I discovered that crab cakes aren't half bad and have taken a liking to pink lemonade mixed with sweet-tea flavored vodka. I was once again painfully reminded that it's possible to get ridiculous sunburned on a cloudy day, but also when it's only sixty degrees. There are junk shops and tacky eateries for miles, although I found quite a few things that I don't regret spending money on.
The weather kept us on our toes, as it usually goes whenever we travel somewhere with sand, palm trees, and water. It actually turned out quite all right, though I was determined to savor this trip either way: I kept my TV and internet usage to a minimum unless it was for work, as I usually do when I'm intend to relax. It made me wonder why people are so eager to unplug when away from home, but don't try to give themselves healthy breaks the rest of the time. Why is it that we can't incorporate the occasional umbrella drink, a nice meal, or quality time with those we care about into "real life"? Isn't relaxation just a much a part of it as work?
I discovered that to truly savor something, you have to embrace all things encompassed in that moment, including your emotions. In the beginning, there were a few times where I ached for my Dad and brother to be there, as I miss all being together at once. I became frustrated over my sister's anxiety about the lack of sunshine, and at one point we debated on making the ten hour drive just to see a few rays.
We stayed, and I'm grateful for it. The sun did makes several appearances and I came home looking like a bronzed lobster.
But nothing compared to the joy that I experienced when on the beach: the smell of saltwater and suntan lotion. Walks on the edge of the tide and finding a mixture of seashells and Bible verses written in the sand. The usual regret of thinking that anything below SPF 15 was enough, and the comfort of cool sheets at night that soothed the itch and burn of my Midwestern skin. I'm not sure if I would live in such a climate year round due to the danger of hurricanes and intense humidity, but the sound of the waves definitely makes me feel at home. It's a place where I can experience God on a deep level and cry happy tears, surrounded by everything involving the natural elements of creation.
The week culminated in people-watching at a beach club, while carrying on an unexpected but needed conversation. I don't want to call it an epiphany per say, but in the days that followed I realized how emotionally liberating the exchange was. And I started to see that maybe it's not necessarily about "letting go" as much as it is choosing to look at a situation differently.
It's no secret that I've been struggling with family-related changes these past eight months. There's been sadness and confusion, which is normal when there are a lot of unknowns involved. Yet I was also angry and scared, as though I couldn't let it out and terrified of losing what I've always known, even if most of it was complicated and imperfect. Realistically, it's completely natural (if not expected) to start building your own life once you've hit your twenties. I was recently reminded of something that my best friend said to me before we left college, that change doesn't mean that relationships have to end, they just take a new shape. And while in one aspect something is coming to an end, in turn I'm creating my own traditions and pursuing my own path. Granted, divorce is still hard and hurts everyone involved, and in a way there's no fully getting over it. But I do believe that there is light after darkness, and new beginnings after big changes.
There's a lot more that's tough to articulate in one post, but I came home feeling like new life was blooming, despite the twenty-degree chill and bits of snow still on the ground. My heart is full and my soul is feeling less heavy, even if on certain days it doesn't seem that way.
Spring is here, and sometimes all it takes is a trip to the beach to see it.