I depart as air…. I shake my white locks at the runaway
I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.
—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
My husband and I have a tradition every year on Yom Kippur (he’s Jewish): We wake up, hop in the car, and drive north to our favorite beach in Montecito (just south of Santa Barbara). We turn off our cell phones, roll down the windows, and turn up the music. Then we take a long, slow stroll on the quiet beach, often stopping to sit in the sun and watch the waves.
It has become an annual tradition for us, and one to which I look forward each turn of the Jewish calendar. It’s a way of stopping time, a reminder that we need to carve space in our lives for ourselves, for quiet, for ritual (for more on how to do this, read Anne Lamott’s beautiful meditation on ‘Finding Time’ here). For my husband, a spiritual, but mostly non-observant Jew, and for me, an agnostic, the ritual is an observance of yet another year’s passing, and of the commitments we hope to make in the following year. I understand this is not in the traditional form of the Day of Atonement, but it is one that works for us and fills our spiritual needs.
Walking Butterfly Beach today, I found myself musing about all of the grounding places and rituals in my life. For me, there are places on this earth that seem to stand apart from others, likely for their physical beauty, their quietude. Butterfly Beach is one. A private ocean cove near Puerto Cito in Dominical, Costa Rica (where we got married last year), is another. My hometown of Rye Beach, New Hampshire with its wide, sandy beaches and rocky outcroppings, is a third. Recently, I discovered another—the red cliffs of Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona, Arizona, home to flitting painted redstarts and hoards of dragonflies.
As we sat on Butterfly Beach today observing the waves, I asked my husband what it is exactly that causes the tide to ebb and flow (I knew it was some combination of the moon and gravity). This led to a conversation about the nature of physical mass, planetary bodies in motion, and the necessity of this endless motion to keep everything on earth in a seemingly-static state. “But one day this will not be so!” I said. “One day it will all be something else!”
Although this inevitable conclusion should be disconcerting, we laughed. A Heermann’s Gull pecked at the wet sand at our feet. A Whimbrel reeled its sharp call across the ocean’s softened shore. I remembered places that were like this one. I remembered every place I’d ever been to.
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game.
There’s nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you
in time – it’s easy.