Rain returned to the coast this week, but didn’t completely dominate. Most days, when we did see rain, it was limited to an hour of drizzle here and there with visits from sunshine as well. Large bodies of water paired with mountains tend to slice weather into pockets where 15 miles down the road could be a total different set of conditions. I like this variability–it keeps things interesting. It sometimes makes it hard to plan the details of your day with much success, but I think we could all use some humility from that anyway.
Murray State had their Spring Break this week, so Allyson had a week away from work to come visit Rockaway Beach, where she’ll finally move here for real in July. We hadn’t seen each other aside from pixilated Skype chats since moving most of our stuff here around the first of February. Modern technology has certainly softened the harshness of long distance, but we still haven’t figured out a way to replicate all the benefits of real life connection with another human being.
The camp was gracious enough to give me some time off, so I got to spend most of each day with my wife, showing her the jaw-dropping beauty I’ve explored here on the North Oregon Coast. We saw gorgeous beaches, mountain top views of the Pacific, and waterfalls tucked back in old growth forests. Allyson got to sleep in our bed in our new house, got to imagine where she’d like to put our knick-knacks and wall hangings. She got to rest with our cats purring on her chest. We ate some of the great food this place serves up each day and explored quirky coastal towns and cities.
I’ve spent a good part of my life alone romantically. Early on, I realized I desperately wanted a girlfriend, but just as quickly realized I was terrible, socially speaking, when it came to girls. I was awkward and uncomfortable, scrutinizing every word, every look, every decision every girl made within 100 feet of me, when most of it probably had nothing to do with me. I put so much pressure on myself to be cool, I taught myself a valuable lesson that would unfortunately take years to learn–if you try to be cool, you will fail. Coolness only comes from a supreme comfort with who you are. While I was learning that lesson, I spent years also learning how to be happy on my own, because I was beginning to see alone as a very real possibility. So, I began to really find a great joy in the blessings in my life: a connection to nature, working with people and helping them grow, seeing and creating art. I could be happy if that was what the world would give me.
I remember the feeling after a week of camp in 1999. It had been a particularly good one where everyone had gotten very close. We had spent a full summer week living in the woods together under canvas tents, without electricity or running water. We had played games, stepped out of our comfort zones together, shared vulnerable parts of ourselves, become ok with each others’ B.O. It was a tiring week, and we were want for a warm shower and a nap on the couch in front of a baseball game. Instead, though, my counselors and I went into town to McDonalds to see our campers one last time before the went back home. We played in the Play Area together like big brothers and sisters, extending the week just a little bit longer. I felt such an impact from this connection that just lasted a week. I felt like I had left every bit of myself there that week to be used for something good. I remember walking down the trail from the wilderness hill saying to myself, “Even if I never find I wife, I’m happy. If I can have this, I’m ok.”
Fortunately, I didn’t have to press the “what if I don’t find a wife,” question. Allyson came into my life and seemed absolutely perfect to me. She fell for me as hard as I fell for her and now we get to share the joy in our lives we might have leaned on to sustain us before. We are both plenty strong, plenty adaptable to live apart–we have so much to love and appreciate. It is much nicer, though, to share that with each other to point out the beauty, the successes, to sit together through the mysteries, to look together off the edge of a cliff into that huge ocean dwarfing us.
Saint Patrick’s day also fell this week, which is special because it’s the day my good friend Mark died in 2002. I always try to do something reverent, something that separates the day from the routine. One year I was at the Grand
Canyon, one year I spent most of the day on my land at the high point overlooking the Tennessee River. I’ll often have a glass of red wine, which Mark loved after his life-changing trip to Italy. Many years I’ve gone bowling, something we used to do a lot in those college years when you’d gather a group of 10 or more on a weekend home.
This year was a unique one. I was far away from my old friends. For the first time, I saw an ocean on this anniversary. Mark died while swimming in the ocean. Allyson and I looked off a 300 foot cliff on Cape Meares. The water was a beautiful dark blue, waves white-capped and crashed against the rocks below. Allyson is afraid of the ocean too, afraid that because we are in a tsunami risk zone that we might be moving out to Oregon to get taken by the sea in a power we can’t control, sort of like Mark did. I
look out over the ocean and don’t think of it as a murderer, though. It is big and powerful, for sure, not to be taken lightly. I wish Mark had been more cautious. I hope that if a tsunami comes, we have prepared enough, that we get to the dune next to our house and find everyone else there too. Beauty and power are hard to resist. Being near them generally comes with an inherent risk. Often, though, we still draw near, because we are so in love with the other things they offer, because a life far away from that beauty and power is painful in its own way.
Yesterday I took Allyson to PDX again to return another time to Kentucky to finish her work. We walked the famous teal carpet, where you take selfies of your feet to announce to the world when you have arrived in Portland. We waited together in the food court until it was time to board. We hugged long, breathing hard, picking up the scent of each others’ clothes one more time. I walked to the edge of the security barrier and watched her go through the line, turning back to wave to me every now and then. She took her bags off the x-ray line and disappeared into Concourse C for her long flight back. I felt this deep sense of fatigue and emptiness walking back to the parking garage. I know that I’m resourceful enough to find joy in this month we’ll be apart. I know that wherever Mark is now I am better even for the little time we knew each other. But there’s a hopefulness tangled up in that joy, longing for Allyson to be back soon, so we can resume sharing the joy. No matter how far-fetched it seems, a longing for Mark’s shoes to be tagged in a picture on that teal PDX carpet someday too.