Fort Lauderdale, in some ways, feels like homecoming.
It’s only my fourth time here, but perhaps it’s in the same way just a few trips to the midwest can create a homebase. Sometimes your soul just knows what and where (or who) home is, where it can rest its head in the tumult of the world.
But it’s also my fourth time here, and that would usually get me antsy. I’ve already been here. Let’s see what a new town is like, new state, new country. There’s too vast of a world to tread the same soil multiple times. It’s an insatiable wanderlust that I’ve been trying to reckon with, try to balance out, try to calm down and smooth over.
Yes, it’s a vast world, but what parts of it will really soak in if your eyes are constantly on the horizon, the next bend in the road.
I was the one to suggest it. Come down to Florida for our annual vacation in June. Come to the very spot that introduced Florida to me in the first place, introduced me to a version of the Atlantic that wasn’t always cold, beaches that weren’t filled with rocks. It was partly pragmatic, partly a tradeoff (how many vacations of ours have been adventure packed, even the so-called low-key ones?), but largely a practice in slowing down. I don’t have to constantly be darting all over the map. It’s still a foreign concept to me, but sometimes homecomings can feed the soul, too.
I keep collecting seashells while I’m at the beach.
A part of me rebels against it. You have enough shells at home. They fill jars and glass containers throughout your house. Artwork you made with them still hasn’t been hung up. You. Have. Enough.
But sea shells are a lot like good memories and adventures. Whatever quota you think there might be, there isn’t. And just like good experiences, when one is within reach, you grab for it, make it yours.
This time around, I’m drawn to two types of shells: the ugly and the smooth.
I pick up ones shaped by harden barnacles, that look more like misshapen pumice stones than anything else. And I pick up the ones shaped by the waves and the sand, that look more like opaque sea glass than anything else.
There’s a metaphor there. I know it. Isn’t that what writers are notorious for? You can find the metaphor in everything. To maddening levels, noticing the metaphor in everything.
And the immediate is there: beauty in the unconventional, the character that lays in the imperfections, etc, etc, etc. But I also think of sea glass, of the piece my best friend wrote for me in my time of hysterical and dire need. A piece that reminded me of the creation of sea glass — that, if you find yourself shattered upon the rocks, let the ocean do what it needs to do. Let it churn you over time and time again, bring you to the shore only to pull you back out, until you’re what you were destined to become.
The blog that had the piece has long since been taken down, but it’s by far one of the most memorable posts I’ve ever read, and one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.
I took the metaphor a step further a year or two later, comparing sea glass to the pieces that are still new in their brokenness. That, if you find yourself shattered on the rocks, allow the ocean to do what it needs to do, and don’t try to escape it early. Pull yourself from the tumult too soon and you’ll still have your jagged, cutting edges, and you’ll make whoever tries to pick you up bleed.
I’m not sure, exactly, what the metaphor is this time around. Perhaps that the tumult can soften and transform you, but it also can take away your texture if you don’t know when to extricate yourself. Or to find that fine line between the sea glassed shells and the barnacled ones. Or that the same force that can soften your edges could add more on. Who knows.
But then again, I’m not picking up these shells for their metaphors. I just think they’re pretty.
Three days into Fort Lauderdale, and my husband gazes quietly at me in the elevator.
“Florida is a good look on you,” he says.
“Is it because I’m all sunkissed now?” I ask.
“You’re Irish. Standing under a 100-watt bulb gets you sunkissed,” he jibes. He adds: “No, it’s more than that. You look relaxed. You look at ease.”
I think of the few other times I look at ease. After a few drinks, when the muscles in my face relax. In the middle of a hike, when I apparently (and unconsiously) smile. It’s nice to see a middle ground, between moderate annihilation and physical exertion. There are other ways to drop what you’ve been carrying, if only temporarily.
2019 has been about release. Releasing things that have been held for a few months, a few years, an entire lifetime in some instances. And in that release, I’ve also been trying to let go of that need for speed. To allow life to be slow. Let a Sunday be a lazy Sunday. Lay in bed when you can. Go on vacation and go to the beach and sit in exquisite indulgence as you read an entire book in three sittings (it’s been months since I devoured a book this quickly). Wade into the water and gently swim alongside the school of little, shining fish. Stand in the waves and let the fish nibble at your ankles. Sit out on the balcony and listen to the waves and feel the warm breeze.
Perhaps the slower approach is okay to wade into from time to time. Let timelines be the timelines they’re going to be. Enjoy the music without wondering when it’s going to end, or what the next song will be. Don’t crane my neck to see what’s beyond the bend, even when I feel desperate for what the horizon has in store. Be with the scenery of now. Look around and appreciate everything within arm’s reach.
Maybe the slow approach can sunkiss my skin like a Florida afternoon.
Maybe I can find homecoming in the present moment. No matter what that present moment is.
Five days into our vacation, and we find our lone piece of seaglass on the shoreline. It’s long and rectangular and looks almost like a crystal. We find plenty of barnacled shells and smooth shells and the conventionally pretty ones, but no other pieces of sea glass.
“I don’t know if I should be shocked we didn’t find any more,” says my husband, “or shocked that we found one in the first place.”