And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Last Friday, I was midway through a phone appointment with a client when I saw an email cross my desk. The header said, “Wavecatcher Happy Dance”, and if I could slam my foot onto the brakes while sitting at my desk, I would have done so.
“Hang on,” I said to my client, “a video just showed up in my email. I have to look at it.” All I had to say in explanation beyond that was that it was from the women who own the little house in Oregon where I go on retreat. My client knew me well enough to understand.
Have you ever found a place that is Home, Home with a capital H, even though you’ve never lived there? A place that didn’t find its way to your heart, but was already there, and you just didn’t realize it until the first time you walked in, and when you walked in, it was like every part of you and every part outside of you suddenly slid into place and you were where you belonged?
In 2008, I went to Waldport, Oregon, for the first time. I nearly fell over with that sense of recognition, and from that point on, I visited almost every summer. There were a couple summers where I went to Maine instead, once because a student graciously sent me on retreat, and the other time, because I found just a lovely place I couldn’t refuse the chance to visit. One summer, I won a weeklong retreat here in Wisconsin, and so I combined that with a weeklong stay at a lakeside cottage (the one that nearly killed me last April). And once, I had a summer of breast cancer treatments and wasn’t healthy enough to travel. Last summer, of course, was COVID. I was supposed to go to the little house and celebrate my 60th birthday there. Instead, I stayed home, had an in-home retreat on my own deck, and grieved.
The owners, Jesse and Mer, grieved with me. I immediately set up dates for 2021 and set my sights on the future. And so I will be in Oregon for my 61st birthday.
But along the way, while waiting for the time to pass, for COVID to pass, for life to return to a new normal, other bad things were happening.
The Oregon coast suffered through a bad winter. With ocean levels rising and storms increasing in strength and frequency, the dune right outside the little house was battered. 10 feet of back yard was washed away. The stairway that led from the house to the beach was destroyed. When Jesse and Mer called me, they told me there was now no longer a way to get from the house directly to the beach. The plan was to encase the dune in riprap, but that wouldn’t be done before I arrived. New stairs would be built after the riprap was put in place. “You can walk a couple hundred feet down the coastal highway,” they said. “There’s a way down there, to get to the beach.”
Sure, I could. But so much of the magic of this place was in being able to open the sliding glass door, walking out and down, and greeting the ocean, who greeted me right back. Standing on that deck, looking at the ocean, and not being able to reach her, just would have felt…so wrong.
Many things have happened to me at that little house. Wonderful things. Unexplainable things. And they all happened because I was able to open that door and walk out. There was the huge pelican who literally fell from the sky, landing with a thud less than two feet in front of me. Because of my proximity to the house, I was able to stay with him for the day, running into the house as I needed things, but coming right back before curious children poked the great bird with sticks or tossed stones at him. I stayed with him, talking to him, trying to reach help at the aquarium in Newport or with animal rescue, until dark and it grew too cold. In the morning, when I came running out, he’d passed away, his body stretched in full flight formation on the beach. I have no doubt his spirit flew to Heaven. I stayed with him still until the aquarium came and took him away.
There was the time I arrived the summer after cancer, when I dropped my suitcases in the kitchen, ran through the living room, threw open the glass doors, and kept running until I stood knee deep in the ocean. With the water around me, with the air around me, with the ocean holding me and that little house at my back, I let my public strength drop and I wept for everything I’d just been through. The fear, the pain. Everything I wasn’t able to show during the experience, but could show, there, at Home.
And there was the old man with the sand dollar, a story I’ve told so many times, I won’t repeat it again. But on that trip, I’d made a bargain with God. “If I’m on the right path,” I said, “let me find a whole sand dollar. A whole one.” And on one foggy evening, an old man emerged out of the twinkling mist and he didn’t say hello. He said, “Have you found a whole sand dollar?” And he gave me one.
All those things and so many more would never have happened if I had to walk out the front door, made my way carefully down the coastal highway (you wouldn’t believe how fast people drive on that thing), and then entered the beach at a different place. Not at Home.
And so I began to hope. That place, my Home, would never let me down. It has always given me exactly what I needed.
And now, this email. “Wavecatcher Happy Dance.”
My client patiently waited while I opened it. On my computer, one of the women, Mer, shouted, “Okay! Here we go! Happy Dance!”
And she danced her way down some newly built stairs to the beach. “Steps! Steps!” she cried. Then she blew me a kiss and she bowed. Jesse held the camera, recorded, and laughed.
All the way in Wisconsin, I laughed with them, returned to my client, then after hanging up, played the video at least another twenty times. In the background, the ocean waved at me.
Miracles happen. Home happens. Sometimes because of the ocean and a little house that wraps itself around you like the warm and healing arms you’ve always wanted. And sometimes because two women, who you’ve never met in person, know you, understand you, and do everything they can to help.
Come on, July.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.
If you are interested in visiting this amazing place for yourself, here is the website for the Wavecatcher: http://www.wavecatcherbeachrentals.com/home.html
(Click the link to watch the video!)