ONE: LA PUSH
Going to the ocean when I was a kid meant a day trip to the perpetually socked-in-like-pea-soup Ocean Shores. I’ve loved the ocean’s energy for as long as I can remember, but I never recall there being sunshine at Ocean Shores.
We’d pile into our green Chevy van with an ice chest full of homemade tuna fish sandwiches, breathless with excitement over the adventures sure to be had. It was summer and we’d leave the warm sunshine of suburbia and sure enough, as we made our way west, the sky turned to shades of steel and concrete and our moods quickly soured.
The ocean beach itself was fifty shades of gray. The lack of rain didn’t make it any less dismal. An uninterrupted swath of gray sand kissed by gray waves butted up to a slightly lighter gray sky. Bundled up, we dug with plastic shovels and made sad attempts at flying cheap kites and ate our gritty tuna sandwiches with stale off-brand potato chips. We’d wade into the surf up to our ankles and feel the sand give way beneath our feet as my sister told me I’d be eaten up by quicksand if I wasn’t careful.
By the time I was 21, I was living in Portland and dating a model named Doug when he drove us out to Cannon Beach in his vintage Volvo sports car. It was September and the beach shimmered in the sunlight. The gray sand was bathed in warm light and the water was topaz blue and glistened with every crest of the waves. I marveled at the stately sea stacks and the quaint shops and restaurants that didn’t serve gritty tuna sandwiches. Doug and I held hands and sipped expensive wine and I felt like a grown-up and dreamed of the life we’d have with beautiful tow-headed model children who we’d take to the beautiful, sunny ocean beach our in fancy sports cars that we’d collect.
Doug eventually came out of the closet and we broke up, but not long after I met The Mister. He and I spent years stealing away for romantic weekends in Cannon Beach and trips to California and Hawaii. The beaches there were clean and sunny and we’d sleep in fancy inns and hotels with room service where we’d eat our eggs benedict in bathrobes sitting on balconies overlooking the sea.
I’ve always loved the ocean.
The Mister and I married and had a couple kids and our fancy beach vacations evaporated as quickly as our lazy Sunday morning brunches spiked with mimosas followed by naps. I missed the ocean but The Mister’s work schedule made summer vacations tough. A couple of my siblings and their older kids had a tradition of summers out on the Olympic Pennisula and encouraged me to join them.
This might be a good time to mention that, apparently, over the previous years I had developed into something that is best described as “high maintenance”.
A bit fussy. Maybe a touch tightly-wound. Particular about things. A lot of things.
My sister knew this, so she spent an inordinate amount of time describing the beach they loved, the accommodations and what it would be like. I was still a new mom and not an easygoing one, so I listened carefully before finally agreeing to give it a whirl. My kids, now 18 months and six years old, needed a family vacation tradition and this was going to be it.
Let’s just say the first few years were rough.
The cabins at La Push were basic, one notch up from rustic, and not at all what I was used to. Traveling with young kids was exhausting–the gear, the food, the unfamiliar sleeping arrangements. The Mister often wasn’t able to join us, so I was on my own. I cried in the shower that was barely big enough for me to turn around in, grimacing as the thin, plastic curtain stuck to my wet skin.
But I still remember the first time speeding down the road towards La Push, gazing into the thick rows of trees in the dark forests of Olympic National Park. Amidst those tall firs, I imagined myself as Max from my favorite childhood book, “Where The Wild Things Are” and felt as if I’d come home.
There were the nightly beach fires with s’mores and sangria and fire questions and answers. The delicious family dinners and the community of cousins and sandcastles and sunsets over James Island. And yeah, the meltdowns and fights and misunderstandings that go along with any family endeavor. Through it all, a tradition was born.
And something else happened, too. I grew up a little bit. Loosened up. Relaxed my grip on how things always had to be “just so”. And I fell in love.
I fell in love with this place way up north on the wild and wooly Washington coast. A place that is often rainy but just as quickly turns to surprisingly warm, brilliant sunshine. A place that even on the stormiest days is not monochrome and dull, but alive with the surrounding forests that stretch down to touch the waves. Multicolored driftwood, in abstract shapes of whales, ravens and spears line the slim crescent of coastline. La Push is sacred ground, located on the Quileute Indian Reservation, with no casino in sight.
The cabins have been upgraded, although I’m happy to say I don’t care as much anymore. This is where I come to breathe. Here is where I come to grieve and come to remember how to live. I come here to stand at the ocean’s edge and to gaze into the night sky and feel so very small. The ocean and sky, each full of secrets and wonder.
I still think of Max and his wild rumpus as I speed towards La Push each year. I’m grateful to my siblings for inviting me to join them at this magical place nearly 20 years ago, and to my ancestors from whom we inherited this fierce love and awe of nature.
More than anything though, I come to La Push to listen.
I’ve often wondered why it is that my birthday is such a big deal to me. But it has been, ever since I can remember.
My love of my birthday must have been born from the fact that I grew up in a family where I was just one of many. Seven, to be exact, not counting the grandparents who took turns living with us. But on your birthday, you got to pick whatever you wanted to have for dinner and that was a very big deal, indeed. Kentucky Fried Chicken was my go-to birthday dinner for years until I became old enough to know better. My mom (or one of my sisters) would bake a 13 x 9 chocolate cake with homemade chocolate frosting, topped with brightly-colored sprinkles and candles. Someone would sing the happy birthday song to me, I’d make a wish, blow and then, presents.
I have all that I need, but I still love presents. I even still love having someone sing that song to me. And I still love my birthday.
I’ve thrown myself big parties and small ones. I’ve had quiet birthdays with my closest family and louder ones with more. It’s never felt strange to take a day to feel special. I’ve never felt the need to apologize for it, although others have insinuated that perhaps I should.
When are we too old to be happy about and celebrate living another year?
As May draws near, I take time to think about how I’d like to commemorate my trip around the sun. A plan is hatched, invites extended, reservations made. This year, my birthday falls during the week the Y is closed for maintenance, so I took myself to La Push to write and walk and grieve and listen.
The act of valuing yourself enough to give yourself exactly what you need and desire is a powerful one. If he truly loved me, he’d know exactly what I want, was a conversation I overheard recently. I’m not sure in whose life that mythology works, but in my life, love has nothing to do with mind reading.
So, happy birthday. I’m so very happy you were born and I hope you are, too.
I don’t take this life for granted. Might as well celebrate.
When I tell you that I’ve spent the better part of my life worrying about and trying to make people like me, it’s not a badge of honor.
Matter of fact, it’s kind of embarrassing.
Maybe you are the type of person who has never cared one way or another. If so, I’d say you’re a rare and lucky soul and I’d also think to myself that you’re probably lying just a little bit. I think it’s a natural part of the human condition to want others to like us. To be part of the gang, to get along, to be popular.
A funny thing happened along my way to getting older–I stopped worrying about whether or not people liked me and instead, I hoped that I’d like them.
My overwhelming desire to be liked has impacted every single relationship in my life, and not always in the most positive ways. From family to friends to my professional relationships and into my yoga teaching and writing–it’s been there. Often too much there.
Until now. Full stop. Pivot.
What a gift it is to be comfortable in my own skin. To be able to see those whom I so desperately needed approval from as just as flawed–and sometimes more so–as I am. How freeing it is to be less concerned with how I am perceived and instead far more interested in others without the heavy baggage of self-absorbed anxiety.
Watch me pull my gaze out of my navel.
The years I spent abdicating my own authenticity to better suit the needs of others were not without valuable lessons and the sum of them all have created who I am today. I gather around me a small clan of souls I like to call my “ride or dies” and that’s more than enough.
What a gift it is to grow older.
Happy birthday, everybody.