She grew up outside of the fog. Where her house sat, there were fields of cows and fields of grasses growing tall for hay. Always surrounding these were hills covered round and green by the tall pines. But on the way to town, before they came to stores and to the only stop light, she would see it; a cloud starting to lift below. The ocean was just ahead; a bay cut deep into the rocky flesh of mid-coast Maine.
In the heat of July and August, sticky sunscreen would be packed beside Italian sandwiches and she could play for the day on the shore. Even before she had words, the waves made poetry deep inside; they lapped against rocks in a steady rhythm that said ‘this is so big and you are so small’. Over and over and over again, the tide coming up unrelenting (stealing shoes if it could) and then releasing its grip on the shore (leaving shell-treasure in recompense).
In school, she sounded out words to tell the story of a sea-witch and wound the tale around with waves and weeds and dashed wickedness. When she turned in her paper, she watched from her desk as her teacher read it, saw her smile and leave the room with the story still in her hands. And the girl wondered and didn’t know.
Later, she didn’t have to sound out her words anymore; they were emotions decoded and thoughts sorted and composition books were stacked under her bed. In her first creative writing class, teenagers sat in a circle and she read her poem aloud. When she looked up, her teacher had tears streaming down her face and left the circle for tissues. And the girl wondered and realized that words aren’t just for her to sort but that they connect and stretch across space and bring people close.
In college, the girl would drive her car to the ocean. She sat overlooking the bay and wrote poems about sailboats and the wind and being on the shore. One night she stayed with a friend in a little house where she could hear waves and smell salt. In the morning she woke to the thudding sound of lobster boats. As she scrounged for breakfast, she watched the pretty sea gulls circling over the boats and scavenging as well. She scribbled out a lobsterman poem and, even though a Mainer all her life, as she thought of them pulling traps out in the chilly morning, she realized she was just a tourist at the sea side.
That fall she met a boy with hair bleached blonde from working all summer on the ocean. He called sea gulls rats and didn’t think they were pretty at all. He teased her about her little bay with the gentle waves and showed her the ocean where the waves were wild and crashed and where when you look out into the ocean it was like looking up at the stars in the sky, seeming to stretch on and on for infinity.
Soon, she started writing poems with a ring on her hand and delicately put the word ‘fiance’ in her prose whenever she could make it fit. There was marriage and moving far from the ocean and a baby was born. She held the new little one in her arms and again, felt the wave song swelling up inside, “this is so big and you are so small.”
The boy knew his wife missed the cow fields and hay fields and before long they had a farm and a farmer’s family; half a dozen babies trying to help pull weeds and mend fences. She was so happy she forgot all about the ocean and the stories. Her hands were too busy for pen and paper. The ocean was only thought of on those hot summer days when they stacked hay bales and longed for a cool sea breeze to dry their sweat. Sometimes, when the hay field was past due for mowing, a light summer wind would send rippling waves through the grass. She’d catch her breath and for a moment, as she watched the timothy bend and bow and lift again, she was beside the sea again. A poem would start to swell like a wave but then there was lunch to make and a baby to put down for her nap and the sheep had broken the temporary fence and were in with the cows. Her thoughts didn’t need to be sorted as much as the laundry waiting in piled baskets.
But then, came a summer of breaking on the farm. The boy and girl sold their animals and old farmhouse and their farm kids became kids with tree forts and hatchets. Their new house sat on a pine covered hill with big windows looking west. So, she would gaze over the rolling hills below and into the big sky above with her back turned to the ocean. She didn’t think about waves or salty air, but she thought about miles and dirt roads and stars in the sky. The miles and the dirt road would sometimes taunt her with their song, ‘you are so alone, so far away’. But every now and then, the stars would whisper to her the wave song, ‘this is so big and you are so small’. Slowly, a swell of stories started to rise inside her heart. Sometimes she walked with her children in the woods and told them stories; a fairy named Perchance had been blown away from fairy land during a storm (when she didn’t listen to her mommy and come inside) and was now wandering about the woods. She was shy but lonely so she loved to follow children and would sometimes leave little gifts in the trail for them. And the farm kids turned woods kids would walk with quiet feet and try to catch a glimpse. They would look in stumps and under leaves and they would find Perchance’s gifts of acorns and shiny rocks and funny shaped sticks.
And the girl-now-mother-in-the-woods started filling her journals again. She even wrote a poem or two. But she was still looking west out her windows and the dirt roads still taunted her with loneliness. She remembered how her teacher had cried and how her words had gone out of her heart into someone else’s and connected them with strings of understanding. She decided to share her ‘walk in the woods’ and would sometimes find a story pressing in and out. So, she would take her heart and put it into words on a computer screen and when she pressed ‘share’ somehow her words bypassed the long dirt road on their way to other screens and into other hearts. And sometimes, words would come back to her. Sometimes other hearts would be put into words and a wave of connection and love would swell.
Sometimes the girl even started to feel wise. When she wrote she would pray and have the Words of the Master of all Words by her side. His Word came in like a tide at the ocean; where there was once a tangle of weeds and rubbish the deep waters would come and rest. And then, as the tide receded she found it had taken much of the debris and left behind treasures of truth glimmering for her to pick up and make her own. She started longing to share these treasures gleaned from the deep tides rolling over her soul. This longing could possess her; she craved the tides and the washing and the sharing and the hearts being strung together with strings of wisdom. She started wanting to spend her day stringing together words and checking and rechecking them.
But she was still a mother and a wife and a housecleaner and a schoolteacher and… on and on it could go. One night, she and the boy sat face to face with their New Years’ sparkling cider in their hands. And, they talked about the year ahead and she knew there was more to do than she could ever, ever do. She looked at this boy whose hair was brown now and who worked so hard and she wanted to do whatever she could to make their life happy in the woods. So, she decided to cut out the words and the stories and the sharing. She would make her hands busy with dishes and laundry and school books and diapers and do it without the distraction of the stories pushing up and in and out.
And she tried. She put schedules in place and made her hands as busy as they could be. And her house was a bit cleaner and she thought, ‘Yes… this is right. This is what I needed to do.’
But at night, she started dreaming of the ocean. The waves woke her from her sleep and she was thirsty with desire to be standing on rocks with salt air blowing her hair and wild waves crashing below.
And, neither the girl nor the boy was happier in their tidier house in the woods. After a while, her heart sank with this knowledge. She could do and do and do and do and do and all the while there was more. One day, she took an old board and painted the words, “Our home, a place to BE” and hung it on the wall. And, throughout the day, she would look at the crooked letters and wonder how to ‘be’ and how to let others ‘be’.
And all the while, she prayed that the Master of all Words wouldn’t wash over her with His tide. She couldn’t bear to see the treasures shining and know she had given up stories. They were the only thing she could think of to let go because dinner needed to be made and children needed to be snuggled and socks needed matching. But she didn’t need to write.
Though at night, she kept dreaming of waves and sometimes they were gentle and sometimes they came crashing down and made her afraid.
Just before she sank down under the weight of the doing and the crashing waves, the Master of All Words gave her counselors kinder than those of Job. One was on her way to the ocean, and gave her the gift of listening and belief and confidence in her stories. Another wrote from the desert, and sang songs over her like the tide washing up and over and around, strengthening and stilling.
And the girl knew. She needed to write. She needed to weave stories while walking with her children and write love letters to her husband and to let the Word wash her and speak it back in ways that connect her to people beyond her long dirt road. She needed to let go of ‘doing’ her writing with its checking and rechecking and trying to be wise and to just ‘be’ and write like she inhales and exhales. She wouldn’t write to teach but she would write for healing and to love. She wouldn’t worry about her grammar or style or being pretty for other people… she doesn’t have time for all of that. But she would write like she was standing by the shore and listening to the waves crash.
And, while her windows still face west, she’s holding tight to something better than the ocean welling up inside. She has the One who thought of the seas and spoke them into being with His Word. She has the One who looked at the crashing waves and told them to ‘Be Still’ and they quieted. So, she can listen to His song in her heart, and write to and through and for the One who calls out, over and over and over again, ‘this is so big and you are so small.’