In my last post, I mentioned that it was the start of Pisces season, a sign that happens to occupy the place in my personal birth chart that helps me to understand the feeling of being home, and so I have found myself preoccupied with these ideas throughout this past week. Many of us move multiple times over the course of our lives and, as a result, we often understand the idea of home as being related to a particular house at a certain stage of our lives. Each time we move, it’s not exactly as though we’re starting over, although we sometimes say that, but more that we are adding on another layer to a base that is already rich with experience. When I think of my childhood houses, I recognize how foundational they were for my understanding of home, especially in terms of teaching me certain things that I wanted to carry forward, as well as others that I knew I had to leave behind. When I consider the two homes that I attempted to bring into being for my own family, first when they were young and then again later after my parents had died, I know that I did both well in many ways, but missed the mark in others. I am certain that these opposites are playing out in the homes my children are currently creating. I radically changed my own concept of home just over six years ago when I ventured out alone for the first time ever, not to start over but to make a necessary change that filled me with a combination of terror, sadness, and hope, often in unequal parts. Over time, I learned that it was possible to keep many of the things that mattered so much to me and still take my life in a direction that was different, so long as I remained fundamentally who I had always been. What couldn’t quite remain intact, however, was the idea of home that I had created for my children. I had toppled that, and because I was well aware of the pain that I had caused, I have tried to rebuild on our original foundation, albeit in ways that were small and very different. In my case, home could not yet be found in a house, but I have longed for the day when I could provide that sense again.
I recently finished watching both seasons of the HBO documentary called 100 Foot Wave, a series that covers the massive swells (and the surfers brave enough to navigate them) that converge onto an area of the Portuguese coast known as Nazaré. For as far back as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by the ocean and the idea of huge waves in particular, an interest that I know many people all over the world share. Whenever the weather off the mid-Atlantic coast brought big swells to New Jersey, I would always try to find my way to the beach just to watch. The waves in Nazaré are in their own category, having been confirmed to be the largest in the world due to an 16,000 foot underwater canyon just off the coast that pulls the energy of the ocean down before exploding it back up to the surface. Prior to 2011, there was not much known about this small seaside town, until Garrrett MacNamara caught a 78 foot wave there that changed everything. Waves have always made me feel the same way I would at the top of a rollercoaster, and the cinematography of the series captures this anticipation perfectly. Simply put, there is something about the way a big wave builds with such crazy force and giant size that gives it the ability to simultaneously terrify and amaze us. Anything with that kind of physical and emotional force seems to also have the potential to spiritually change us, which explains why big wave surfers are such a mystical bunch, believing that the ocean holds all the secrets of the universe.
My family would be quick to tell you that it is not all that uncommon for me to call or text them at crazy hours to say, “Hurry up… go out and look at the moon!” Sometimes they will listen to me, and other times they will not, claiming extreme fatigue, too much grading to do, a child that needs to be bathed, or some other trivial matter that demands their attention. I secretly keep a little journal of who runs outside and reports back appropriately awestruck, as well as who doesn’t, although I’m not sure what prize the winner will eventually get. I’ve always had a belief, its origin uncertain, that if we have knowledge that some kind of natural phenomenon is happening, and we don’t go outside to bear witness to its spectacle, we are in for big trouble. From a very young age, I decided that it was my job to announce things like beautiful sunsets, or amazing rainbows, or massive storms coming in, or the world’s biggest spider web out by the light on the porch, all with the admonition for everyone I could tell, “No, no, you HAVE to go see it!” Even as a full grown adult at Recklesstown Distillery, which is situated in a spot where you can see the horizon from one end to the other, I was always sending the staff outside to see the moonrise, or the sunset, or some crazy frog, no matter how busy we were. It only ever took a second, but it was one that I thought it was necessary to give. If I sit down and truly consider why I feel this way, I honestly believe that it’s because instances like the ones I’ve described have that peculiar juxtaposition of fragility and power that always offers us a momentary glimpse into some important truth, much like the understanding that hovers around the edges of what we’re reading or dreaming.
This past Christmas, I bought my granddaughter Phoebe a book called In My Heart, by Jo Witek. It helps children (and adults) understand all the feelings, big and small, loud and quiet, quick and slow, that we might have on any given day. If you have little ones in your life, and you’re looking for a truly great book to buy that encourages a back and forth dialogue, this is most definitely the one. By identifying just about every possible emotion, Witek tells us that they each have their place, and that it’s okay to give voice to them all. I originally bought the book for Nora, granddaughter number one, back in the day, and I’ve read it many, many times over the past six years. It never fails to move me. Happiness is like a big, yellow star, shiny and bright. Sadness is as heavy as an elephant, a dark cloud raining down tears. When we are afraid, our heart beats fast, and a chilly breeze climbs up the back of our necks. Nora has always loved the shyness page, where we take hold of our hearts and watch the world from a safe place that no one else can see. I think that might be my favorite too. The book ends with the question, “How does your heart feel?” Jack and Nora answer right away, providing all kinds of details as to why, Nellie is going in that same direction, and I know Phoebe won’t be far behind them. I love listening to them articulate the truth behind how their hearts feel, mostly because their willingness to be honest and open, without any hidden agenda, makes it all seem so incredibly easy. I often find myself wishing that many adults I know, myself included, could find that same level of comfort with saying what needs to be said in a way that is nothing but sincere and genuine.