The other day I was feeling…something. I’m not sure if it was anger or frustration, fear, disappointment, or some combination of them all. It might best be called anxiety, a worrisome nervousness born out of the uncertainty of life. It was not a continual state, but it was a feeling I’d had before.
I told my friend Megan that it feels like a three-tiered whirlpool spinning in my brain, my heart and my stomach all at the same time. My mom thinks this happens because I have too much time on my hands, too much space to think and ponder. I think it’s just where I am, in the middle of the whirlpool, in a place where my thoughts and feelings need to swirl to the surface.
I was having coffee with a writer who lives in San Mateo. We covered the breadth of our summer experiences—the weddings, vacations, writing projects and job searches we had each been through. She was getting ready to go out of town, one final lakeside holiday before the school year was underway.
“So, are you going to the beach?” she asked, referring to a comment I’d made when we set up our coffee date.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. I had my swimming suit and beach bag in the trunk of my car, a book to read and a towel to sit on. But I also had my laptop and a stack of manuscripts. I was as likely to try working as I was to sit in the sand.
I debated with myself for a while and then opted for the ocean, only because I could. Because it was there, just 12 miles away and I was a student still on summer break. Because I grew up in Nebraska where the only waves are golden fields and sand comes in big plastic bags.
I stopped at a coffee shop to change my clothes and grab an iced tea. The barista was short with dark hair and a young perky smile. It was still sunny in town, but I knew the shoreline would be cloudy, that the water would be cold the way the Pacific is always cold. The beach would be windy and the waves would be wild.
I parked my car a few blocks from the shoreline, grabbed a hooded sweatshirt and slung my beach bag over my shoulder. Getting down to the ocean was precarious. Thirty yards from the main entrance to the beach, I took an alternate route that led to an isolated stretch of sand. As I maneuvered down the rocky slope, I felt the weight of the thoughts I’d been carrying for weeks, the weight of the feelings and questions and confusion that swirled and sloshed and threatened to spill. I brought them to the shoreline. I brought them to the water.
I walked along the beach and dropped my canvas beach bag beside a rotting piece of driftwood. I situated my towel, sat with a book and read the same page five times before giving up on it. My thoughts were too loud, too unsettled, too anxious.
I rose from my towel, pulled off my shorts and tossed my sunglasses to the sand. I moved toward the water, gaining speed with each step. I did not frolic at the shoreline. Did not test the temperature of the ocean or flinch at its chill. I marched into the water the way I used to tromp through winter snow drifts. Ankles, knees, hips, waist. I moved deliberately, clenching my fists and stomping toward the waves. They met me with equal intensity, gaining speed and height before breaking in front of me. As the frothy bubbles of the breakers swirled around my legs I began speaking at the ocean, giving voice to my frustration.
Why? I asked. Why have you made this so hard? Why is all of this so hard?
I began to realize that I was angry. With God. With myself. With a person who had hurt me–again. A wave rolled toward me and I braced for its breaking, digging my feet into the sand and tensing the muscles in my legs and all through my core. The wave broke and it shook me, knocking me off balance and splashing saltwater in my face.
I just don’t understand, I continued. It doesn’t make sense. Why does none of it make sense? Why do people say things they don’t mean? Make promises they don’t keep over and over and over? Why do I always believe it will be different? Why am I always wrong?
Another wave came toward me, this one bigger, stronger.
If only you would move, God. If only you would heal. If only…
The wave rose taller than my chest, my neck, my full height. I didn’t flinch. Didn’t move. I let it come closer and closer, still holding my ground. And when it broke, it broke with such strength that it knocked me off my feet, pulling me under the water and in toward the shoreline, dragging my body across the sandy floor. When I rose to my feet my hair was heavy with seawater, my eyes stinging salt, my skin wet and gritty.
As I caught my breath and steadied myself on the beach, a voice answered my spirit.
I am God, it said, And you are not.
I paused in the shallows and walked back into the ocean, cupping handfuls of water and washing the sand from my body. I watched the breaking of several more waves and thought of giving up. Of letting the voice be and returning to my book.
I stepped out of the water and headed toward my towel, my feet securely crossing the firmness of the beach. But the fight had not left me. I was not done asking questions. Almost reluctantly, I turned back.
But why? I asked again, submerging myself once more in the waves, letting pictures flood my head as questions mingled with my feelings. Why don’t you do something? Say something? Change something? Why don’t you intervene? Why don’t you act?
The waves continued breaking like the last line of a refrain.
I am God and you are not.
I am God and you are not.
I am God.
I am God.
They undulate unending. Bringing an answer that is the answer to all of my questions, the answer to all of my anger and frustration and fear and disappointment. An answer that I must accept, for it is the only one that there is. He is the answer. He is. He is.