A few days ago we got back from our summer holiday. The blisters from my flip-flops are still healing. My young son’s hair still smells of sand. The mild tan that I got despite religiously applying sunscreen, is still there.
I didn’t always love the beach. Growing up every vacation was spent in a caravan right on the edge of the rocky beaches of KwaZulu-Natal. The sand was too much. It was everywhere. It stuck to my feet like it had bonded with my skin. It spread across the tent floor. It was in my camper bed. As a little girl I loved to sweep it up and declare the tent spotless. It wasn’t as comfortable as the holiday homes my friends had, but every night we went to sleep listening to the waves and my dad would wake up early and watch the sunrise in silence (my dad likes silence). It suited our budgets and gave us contented hearts.
Then after many times being driven in a car over a hill to see the expanse opening out before me in its blue glory; after sitting in rock pools with my mum, pretending to be a hair dresser and “washing her hair” with sand and sea water (thanks, mum); after long, long walks along the east coast of South Africa with my parents and my sister, looking for cowries, taking giant leaps to step into my dad’s footprints; after dusky evenings sipping Sprite on the rocks with my mum and sister (mum would get white wine…necessary after the hair wash I gave her); and after being old enough to explore the beach and climb up onto tall rocks on my own, I found that it had wooed me. I loved it. I was alone. I could hear God. I absolutely loved it.
Those Indian Ocean waves would rumble and roll and crash wildly at high tide and in storms. At low tide I discovered another world snorkelling in those rocky pools full of colourful fish. They evaded my reach with incomprehensible ease as I brushed past. That sun was warm as I became a teenager and tried to get a tan. And when I moved to Cape Town and the beaches were more upmarket, with mansions lining the streets, claiming the kinds of sea views that our humble caravan had enjoyed, the sea temperature felt colder than ice, the waves were smaller and the water was turquoise instead of Prussion Blue, but the beach hadn’t lost it’s appeal.
For the waves spoke of love as they lapped the shores. I heard it when I closed my eyes and felt the warmth on my cheeks and eyelids and the breeze through my hair. The sunlight still sprinkled diamonds on the sapphire expanse. We would gather after volleyball and watch the sunset over the sea (now being in the west). As the luminous circle slipped below the clear purple horizon we would jump to “see it twice” and giggle at our ridiculousness and our delight. I soaked it all up in all its goodness. This was creation and it wrapped around me in a warm embrace.
I met someone who claimed that one night she had seen a vision of angels on the beach. They were moving along the waves holding them back. They didn’t have wings. “This far and no further.” I believe her.
On good days and bad days and on uneventful days I’ve gone there. When I was a young adult and had finished my degree I went there by myself on Saturday mornings to bake until I was warm, then I would run into the ice-cold waves to cool down for 10 seconds, walk briskly, shivering back to my warm towel, and wait there until I was ready to do it all over again. I’ve sat on a bench on cloudy days and breathed in salty air. I’ve gone there when I’ve been lonely. And when someone I had been praying for died of cancer, it was to the beach that I went to let the waves sooth my mind and remind me that God is still good. The waves still lap.
And now I take my children to the beach. It’s in a different hemisphere but it’s still the same. The waves lap; sometimes they crash. There are rocks and pools and dry sand that sinks against my feet and runs between my toes with a comforting scratchiness. It still gets everywhere. There is lots of cleaning off with towels and sweeping and my daughter hasn’t yet got past the point of being annoyed by it. My husband took them to the farm park when they’d had enough, but I went in the other direction for a long swim. When I got out and stood facing the sun to dry off, I closed my eyes and felt the warmth on my checks and eyes just like I did down south. The breeze stroked my hair. For the first time in a long time, I was at peace. Everything is going to be alright. I have hope my children will find that too.
Because the sea is still there. After all the pain of the years it is still there. Like a mountain it is mighty and it is steady. It goes only as far as God lets it. It is inviting. The waves lap. The sun shines beams on it in the morning. It’s as if God is saying, “Look!” Look what I made for you! Come and see, and hear, taste and smell it. Come and play in it!” And I feel loved.
So I will enjoy the sandy smell in my son’s hair when I hug him. And I don’t mind the blisters.