I was born on the East Coast of England and many of my formative years were spent by, in and on the North Sea. To this day I still feel the call of the water. It’s so primal. Not just that water, all bodies of water, but especially that one.
During the pandemic, I was unable to travel to see my water. In essence, I was banned from visiting my home country for an extended period and it was torture. Having freely crossed the pond, as it were, for over 30 years, I was not able to go. I kept booking flights and they were always canceled.
The call of the sea whistled to me from thousands of miles away, echoing my name like a memory I couldn’t leave behind.
I visited other bodies of water near my home in California from Pismo to Monterey during those long months of lockdown and forced estrangement from my people. These beaches fed my soul for brief interludes, but I still felt the call from that grey beast overseas — her brownish-grey blue splash onto the shingle, the sparkle of the morning sun, the twinkle of pebble treasures to be found underfoot.
My sea, the place where my mother taught me and many others how to swim, where our family spent weekends and summers for years and years; that special place in the world where I can always find my peace.
Finally, September 2021 there was a window of opportunity to return home to my place. Only for two days, as it transpired, since my oversea schedule was a hefty one after years away, but I’d take it.
I arrived in town finally and could not wait to get rid of the rental car. I was so beside myself with excitement I parked in a no-parking zone and got myself a rather chunky parking ticket that I cared not a bit about. Without even checking in at the hotel, I scampered down the beach like a child, flinging myself so hard toward the waves I nearly fell in. I felt like hugging that big old body of water, it had been so long.
I walked along the beach to “our” lookout, where we used to sit every day for our various swims throughout the daylight hours. If some poor soul happened to be in our spot, we would squeeze in close to them until they moved. Even now I will pause as I walk by, and pay homage to all the souls that loved that special place on the beach. Some were even sprinkled right there after their passing.
The weather was so divine, my friend decided to join me at the beach. We also have layers of history together in that place for near half a century now. The water called our names, and we plunged in, actually two days in a row, buoyant with joy and salt water, regardless of the cold. We visited all our cossetted spots in town and reconnected with our former customs now restored to us.
There is little more joyful than the deprivation of pleasure that finally comes to an end and the door is open once more to another day of happiness. When the blissful two days came to an end, I swore that I would never again take my birthplace for granted. I never want to leave it, truthfully. I’d like to see how long I could stay there until I was truly ready to leave; but so far, in my whole life, I’ve never been ready to go.
My sister Rosie loved the water, same as me. She always wanted to be in it, on it, close to it. Since she lived in Turkey and I lived on the West Coast of the U.S., we had toyed with the idea of buying a home together in the place where we grew up, a spot where we could meet up with our friends and families and build new memories; but it wasn’t to be.
Maybe one day I will be able to honor our plan, but for now I find her in the water, wherever that water might be and it’s a remarkably magic feeling of peace when I do.
Our other sister lives on an island between England and Ireland and she finds that same peace in her body of water in the Irish Sea and also a place where she finds our younger sister. When I returned to Turkey to visit, after Rosie passed, I found her there too. Somehow, she is in or around every body of water where I find myself. Our father was a seasoned sailor, our mother an excellent swimmer. They met in that town many years ago.
Our family’s sanctuary and church, if you like, has always been the water.
If you find yourself in times of trouble, in need of solace, venture forth to the place that soothes your soul. If you can’t physically travel there, go there in your mind. When I was going through chemotherapy, I would travel to my birthplace in my mind. I would walk the streets; buy things I liked in the shops and spend lots of time on the beach and in the water.
Randomly, I turned a corner one day away from the cottage we used to own, and my horse was tied up by the look out, all saddled up and ready to go. We rode along the seafront and back via the fish shop. This all served to give me enormous comfort.
We are so lucky to live where we do, just a spit away from the Monterey Bay and all her gifts — her immense and special sanctuary, her coves and villages. There are wonderful people who live in and around the bay and love her so much. She may not be my home, but she’s close to one of my homes and I will hold her close and love her all the same.
The majesty of the ocean is all around us. Let us not take her for granted.