Photo by Despo Potamou
“What brings you joy?” That was the question a writer-friend posed a few years ago, when she was compiling a book of essays on that subject.* She specified, “Something other than your grandchildren. Grandchildren are obvious.” As we chatted, my brain skittered, trying to think of something that brings me as much, or more, joy than my grandchildren. Music was a contender. And then I remembered how joyous I feel in the presence or depths of the ocean.
*Here’s the essay I wrote, published in Carol Miller Fradkin’s book, What Brings You Joy?
I should say: the ocean and me. I’m not sure what the difference is between “sea” and “ocean” but when I think and speak longingly of jumping waves in tangy, frothy, playful-scary, whooshing, fishy-kelpy-smelling salt water…I’m talking “ocean.”
I grew up in New Jersey, where “going down the shore” was a frequent summer pleasure. For 35 years I lived in San Diego, where the idiom was “going to the beach,” three miles from home. Here I am, in Nashville – hot-humid, land-locked Middle Tennessee – a million miles from the Atlantic or Pacific, panting to jump me some waves.
You’d think our sumptuous vacation a few months ago to a resort on Aruba’s most beautiful beach would’ve done it for me. Yes and no. Yes, because the sea was perfect: as if vats of turquoise ink had been diffused in the water; baby-butt smooth sandy bottom; sybaritic water “not too hot, not too cold;” shoulder-deep just a few feet in; even-tempered swells.
Wait! Where were foamy, frenzied waves? Where was eau d’ocean – the fishy-kelpy smell? Most missed: the thrill quotient! Sizzling skin edging into frosty water; daring to bear the cold long enough to feel fabulous; an inch-at-a-time exposure, though immersion would be merciful; arms aloft, midriff fronting my advance, moving inexorably to the point of no return; finally meeting up with the chutzpah wave that would have its way with me, dousing me completely, bone-chilling, salt-stinging.
Because The Sea and Me is the story of youth, of play, of exuberance. It was so when I was actually young. And it was so, a few years ago, on a family vacation in Santa Cruz. I was no longer young. The ocean was shockingly, impossibly cold. Yet there I was, advancing into the waves: frigid ankles, frigid knees, frigid thighs. Call it chickening out, call it coming to senses that warned of pneumonia, reminded of fragile bones: I turned tail and left the ocean. But not before an ice-cubey wave breached my bathing suit line.
And more: Utterly coincidental, I learned that Carol became a first-time grandmother yesterday. She looks over-the-top joyful in photos of her holding her beautiful new granddaughter.