Some years ago, I glanced through a gardening book on the bookstore shelves on one of my husband’s and my cheap dates–going to Borders for chai lattes and paging through books. The author first subjected her readers to one of those personality tests to determine what kind of an “outdoor space” person she was. A meadow lover? Too many bees. A cave dweller? Too claustrophobic. A forest dryad? Too dark, and too many things ready and able to jump out from behind (or within) a tree. A point person? Oh, yes. That was me. Absolutely, solidly, no quibbling. My ideal outdoor space, as she described it and I completely concur, consists of me, a spit of land facing the ocean, closed eyes, breeze and spray just enough to be invigorating but not enough for a complete soaking.
Now this, if you had known me as a child, you would find rather odd. Some of my deepest childhood terrors involved other people attempting to get me to like water. My mother insisting I go down the slide at Cedar Lake. I swear that thing was 40 feet long and high and in at least that depth of water, too. At least, it seemed so to me. Same mother dragging me down a pier on Lake Michigan, bending down and tugging me toward that terrifying blueness. (OK, it was Chicago in the early 70’s. More likely it was blackness, and the most terrifying part was what was in that water.) Nevertheless, I was sure as I peered into it at such close range that I would soon be in it and lost to this world forever.
Then, there was the swim test at Girl Scout camp, wherein I swallowed at least two gallons of lake water and probably some small fish. What was this about having to put my actual face in the water to swim? Wasn’t a dry-eyed, barely breast stroke good enough? I’m not Australian. I do not have to crawl. I got a pity pass and barely missed the social stigma of the dreaded redcap–the landlubbing not-allowed-beyond-three-feet-of-water failures. We will not even mention here my older brother’s fondness for dunking my head in the toilet. That is most likely where all this got started, you know. So what could possibly explain my grownup love of a rocky coast and open sea?
I think, maybe, it’s not in spite of those fears but because of them. Maybe, for a fearful being, the ocean is the only place big enough to dwarf them all and make you think: my worries and terrors and, yes, even my me, are so tiny in the whole big sailboat of life. Maybe I forget me there. Maybe an ocean is as close to the freeness of eternity as I’ll get in this life.
Alas, I will probably never have a garden that features an ocean view, so it was of no use to buy the book. I have to settle for a taste of glory when I can get it. In my very imperfect place on my very imperfect journey, I’m glad for at least a taste of eternity to remind me–the perfect place is out there. I’m just not there yet.