Rebecca K. Reynolds

Honest Company for the Journey

The Pilgrimage

There are places where I choose to praise God; but walking at the ocean is walking in on the middle of the worship service. 

At the seaside I am a Methodist stumbling through the doors of an apostolic revival, the salt wind does up my hair, beats my shirt against my stomach, threatens to pick me up off my bare feet and toss me like a baby into the arms of the angels. 

Blown sand stings my legs and sticks to them, because I am made of earth, and the ocean seems to remember my humble origin, teasing me, sucking at my toes with her foam, and whispering (in case I have forgotten) that my beginning and my ending roll in and out like the tide, for a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day.

But God has hidden his glory in  pot-bellied, knobby-kneed pieces of clay, and every day the ocean sees the cycle of our kind. We are at our most human with her. She receives our little chunky butt toddlers with flutter skirts while they carry yellow buckets of her water to the castles she will wash away in a few hours. She pulls at the old bones of old souls tottering against the breeze and threatening to capsize.

We trust her too much, I think. We trust her like that friend who says exactly what she thinks, for the ocean is no saint, this minister of tsunamis, haven of hermaphrodites and two-headed mutant things. She births deep sea vent worms, and coal black nightmare fish with sunken eye spots, and cannibals who eat their own young. 

We pretend to preside over her with 103 lb teenagers sitting on lifeguard chairs. Their little, muscular, roasting bodies are poised, watching fat guys on floaties trying to get wi-fi, dangling white soft legs into the wild. 

Yet deep calls to deep, angling the soul to find 5G somewhere in heaven or earth. Waves touch my shins, and I consider the life energy of all bodies standing in this water through all time. 

Have we always come to the ocean needing to reinvent ourselves? To escape ourselves? To be baptized into something new?

When I come to the ocean, I can never relax until the third day. Maybe it's the curse of the firstborn, but I am shaking off work for seventy or eighty hours. I can't sleep. I can't laugh. The ocean has to teach me again to be wild, to be dangerous, to breathe, to resign, to absorb those surges that smack me in the back, knock me down, give me tactile proof that I am not fleshly whole nor holy flesh.

This is why I and my fellow pilgrims collect, and traveling to Canterbury, we weave through one another, smelling our coconut sunscreens, hearing bits of our interchanges, the crescendo and decrescendo of ten-second intimacies. 

Today it was a gay guy and his girl friend, and he was telling her about the last fight he got into at his dad's place with his boyfriend. He said he threw the other guy across the room. Literally threw him. Broke some stuff. His dad got mad. Said they couldn't come back. And everything was f-this and f-that, before I moved on.

And yesterday that guy in the baseball hat looked around when I was talking on my phone and broke down into tears, saying that I was just scared and disappointed with the way The Lord had done some things.

At the ocean we notice about one another what we wish we didn't, Noah in his drunkenness, and spiritual desperation, and relational failure, and jello bottoms swinging dimpled out of tired bikinis.

The locals are rotisserie-brown beach folk, caramelized and crunchy. And there are sturdy peasant bodies with short, strong hands that I can't help but visualize squeezing Jersey cow udders. If they weren't wearing Ohio State shirts, they would have names like Peggoty and would play milkmaids on the BBC.

A willowy romantic carries her hard-bound book into the waves. Long dark hair twisted into a knot.

There is a woman tall and angular, spray-tanned, too skinny and dyed blonde. Her arm is cooly woven through a man's. She doesn't love him. He is an accessory. Implanted breasts are the only softness protruding from an expensive red bikini. I don't like her. Her head is too high; it floats on her neck. This has cost too much for her, I think.

Beautiful, deep chocolate bosom larger than my legs. It makes me feel less female than I am. I envy her exotic beauty, high, African cheekbones and satin skin that looks as if it wouldn’t wither in a hundred years.

Eighty-something white woman walks the coast in a two piece. Skin hangs like a paper fan folded. She has the spiked white hair of an athlete.

Someone's mom wears a grey cotton sports bra with an ipod tucked against her sweaty boob. Her stomach pours forth beneath it, then tucks itself into a bikini bottom at some indeterminate point. She dares the world to comment. I envy her abandon.

Mullet man sitting beneath a tent. Skynard blasting. Surrounded by made-in-China flags, one dug into sand for every branch of the military and the POW’s. He leans back in a folding aluminum lawn chair, owning something defiant by the way he holds beer in a cozy.

There are perfect twenty somethings. They are confident in the parenthesis of being exactly the right age for the beach.

Peach-fresh thirteen-year-olds, watching the twenty-somethings. Is he looking? Giggle. Is he looking?

Couple in love. Intertwined. They are the only two people in the world.

Family speaking Spanish, casting lines. They are catching good things. Happy children help bring in the food. They are adored, and it's little wonder. Such huge, deep eyes.

Forty-something and fighting it. Running shorts. Tight legs stretched into fibers. Determined.

Two sisters. The lesser beauty multiplied with a tossed smile. The greater negated by self-absorption.

Old man. Plaid shirt tucked into pressed khakis. Calisthenics. Arms up. Two steps. Arms out. Two steps. Fingers curled. Wrists in a circle. Two steps. Smiling and nodding, left then right. Left then right.

Asian couple. She wears a huge straw hat and shirt buttoned up to the neck to shelter porcelain skin.

Drunk frat guy dancing with abandon. His friends are laughing. He’s got some good moves. I want to dance, too.

Slathered redheads sizzling like a plate full of fajitas.

Little girl crying. Pink blow-up floaties on her arms. She has sand on her hands, and it bothers her. She needs a nap.

Women on their stomachs. Bikini straps undone. 

Guys strutting in threes. Looking at girls.

Bocce families. Frisbie throwers. Kite flyers.

Introverts with Kindles and terrific hats.

Pack mule dads looking tired, shoulders burned, carrying four chairs, two floaties, and a toddler.

And me. Walking too white. Forty-three. I don't like my feet, and I'm wearing sunglasses to cover the flaws around my eyes.

All this flesh of ours. Comedic and syncopated. Nice people aren't supposed to notice any of these things, let alone write them down, but I do notice, because we are all so wonderful except for that proud woman who bought her confidence on a surgery table. 

God, forgive me for my indifference toward her, because I think maybe You would love her most dearly because she has sought love most desperately.

Today I was reading about the Boltzmann brain theory, a spontaneously generated consciousness that has a one in a bluebajillion chance of kerplowing into existence if the world hangs around dying long enough. 

And I laughed at first to read it, because it's the the story of the Emperor's new clothes, isn't it?Physicists toss dice about the simplest of possible things while Einstein rides through town, down along the coast in a Speedo, a living, breathing wonder.

We are all near-naked kings and queens at the ocean, fool, parading pilgrims. And you can claim agnosticism if you like, but if you had seen my daughter hit the hole-in-one on that lucky shot playing pirate putt putt, you would have laughed at the novelty of it instead of doubting in the existence of golf balls.

Still, he loved us before we loved him. He always has. And He loves us still. 

So he gave us the ocean to tickle our arms with the salt wind, whipping up the coast to a froth against our ankles. He spins the moon on the tip of his finger to send the she-tide sighing like a prophetess to Nineveh.

And we resist, and we yield, and we resist, and we yield, pushing our hair out of our eyes, and letting the salt water wash into our hearts. 

Come, Living Water. Come show us what it all means. For the sea is only a glimmer, like light caught on a point of a wave.