I did not remember it yesterday as we piled out of the car after two long days of driving and meandered up to the cooling sand and the brilliant expanse of green-blue waves rhythmically coming and going and coming again before us.
The thunderous crash, the peaceful retreat, the in and out of the ocean. It had been a year since we were last here in Bethany Beach, Delaware, and we couldn’t get to the water’s edge fast enough.
The children bent down to graze their hands in the foaming tide. I hiked up the pink cotton of my yoga pants. The wave crashed in, catching us all in absolute joy, and we reveled in the gift of being here.
Of stopping time, of the opportunity to truly relax and fade into the rhythm of the ocean waves for a full long week.
One week. That is what stretches out ahead of us here at the ocean, and I intend to linger in every single minute of it.
This morning, right now, I am the only one awake. The sun is bright already and growing hot. The pine trees all around, my favorites, are still and regal, bearing witness.
Last night, after the dark was full and the stars began to sparkle overhead, Asher and I drove to Ocean City for the reading of Eicha, the book of Lamentations, signaling the start of Tisha b’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar.
And you know what? I was thrilled to be on the floor of that tiny, clean synagogue. The rabbi so friendly, the plaintive wail of the chanting so real, and I don’t even observe this day usually in my life.
But my son wanted to mark it in some way while still enjoying the beach. Traditional Jews might not come here until after this day had passed – superstition, plus the obstacle of not being allowed to swim during the 9 Days leading up to Tisha b’Av. Oh yeah, and observant Jews the world over are fasting today – not ideal if you want to be in direct sun on the expansive beach.
Me, I observed it enough when I was Orthodox. I don’t need it now. Except that I was glad to be there last night, a reminder of who I am at the core.
And who that is, is a Jew.
I cannot escape it. Although some of us Jews at times wish to be like everyone else, wonder what it would be like having been born into a Christian family who puts up a Christmas tree and goes to church and has the same holidays as everyone else, me, I don’t want to escape it.
I am who I am. I think God said something like that in the cave to Moses at the burning bush.
This is it. My destiny. With all of its annoying obligations and all of its extreme poetic beauty.
I don’t mind the dichotomy in any way. Even now, at the beach, on the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. I don’t feel the need to fast, or to stay off the beach in mourning. I don’t feel sad. I feel elated to be here, and yet I am reminded every moment that I will never be like everyone else, my legacy will always be different.
And even though this is not a holiday I typically observe, I am so glad I went to the synagogue last night.
As some of the kids ran on the sand in darkness playing the first inaugural game of flashlight tag, Asher was counted in the minyan and I chatted with the rabbi’s daughters in the women’s section, and I felt wholly, if not completely, at home.
And yet, the waves do this to me, too.
Being beside water, in water, on water, that is my soul’s home as well. The beauty of growing older is getting to know who you are at the depths.
“No offense, but you say that a lot, Mommy,” Asher said.
“Really? Where else do I say it?”
“In the forest. Anywhere in nature really. But it’s ok.”
“Yeah,” I said, “it is. I guess I’m just happy in my life. I guess I love a lot of places. That’s pretty good.”
The waves came in and they went out and this repeated over and over again as we stood at the edge of the water. Eliana begged to go in, but there were no lifeguards by that hour and so the freedom was certainly clamped.
By the time we retreated to the house, all the kids were drenched, and so was I. It was a blissful kind of drenching, soaked through with a reminder of one place where we find unbridled joy, unapologetic glee.
The vacation begins. And I am savoring every moment of it.