I was lucky enough to go on vacation, yet again, without my children. I am terming the summer of 2010 the summer of Jen’s selfishness. A cruise with my husband, a writer’s workshop in Disney, and now my favorite place in the world with my best friend: Cape May.
My girlfriend and I made a pact when we were teenagers and discovered that both of us felt spiritually connected to Cape May. We had gone to other vacation spots and beach places, but nothing else called to us like the end of the Garden State Parkway. I have memories of late nights spent on the wraparound porch of the bed and breakfast inn, hearing the horses hooves clop steadily over the pavement. Old oak trees bent and tangled with time stooped low over the uneven sidewalks. The ocean roared in your ears, the breeze tugged at your hair, and delicious boardwalk scents rose to your nostrils: pizza, hot dogs, fudge, ice cream and popcorn.
Over the years, we lost two of our girlfriends to marriage and babies and pleas of no time. My friend and I have battled through five pregnancies between us, husbands, work, and a million other factors to keep our vow. Every August, it is our time. A time to reflect, to meditate, to relax and to shop.
I have been dedicated to my writing journey since returning from the conference. My brain and spirit are attuned to the work, my senses are open to the voices around me as I pull from life to make something on the page come alive. Today, I spent the day on the beach and finished reading the novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein It’s a brilliant book written from a dog’s perspective. The pages are filled with lessons on life from the soul of an old dog who believes when he dies he will be reincarnated as a man. I sat in my beach chair with my feet in the sand and read the entire book in a few hours. I would pause between the chapters, catching my breath and allowing myself the respect an author deserves to think about the words written – words that were rife with meaning and subtlety and a soft brilliance. The key to many life lessons were contained in this novel, more so than any self-help or Secret book I have ever read to date. As I closed the book, I felt as if the layer of veiled ignorance had lifted from my view. I gazed at my surroundings with fresh perspective and meditated on this journey of life.
I walked to the shoreline and looked at the endless expanse of colorless gray ocean and sky to watch and listen. The screech of seagulls commonly called rats of the sky – but in their element so full of grace as they tuck their wings in and soar through the air in silence and peace. The scream of little children chasing waves, and teenage girl conversations filled with giggles and gossip behind glossy magazines such as Cosmo and Redbook. The sights and sounds of the beach surrounded me, and my brain was free of thoughts, free of anything but the sharp tang of salt in the air and the sting of the water lapping around my ankles, cleaning the cut I got from shaving this morning. I expected the water to be icy cold and held my breath as I made my way in, but the water was warm, and swirled with temptation to gather me in. I waded deeper. The ocean roared with satisfaction and spilled great pools of white saliva in an attempt to take my life, then retreated to try all over again. I breathed in and out and thought about people, and our life here, and how brave we have to be in order to gain anything worthwhile. We have to be very strong to believe in ourselves and our dreams and let no one steal them.
The novel teaches many things about race car driving. I learned the sport is much like writing. And life. We manifest what we see. We must believe in every turn of the journey and never think to be passed or to retreat is to lose. Sometimes, we have to adjust and accept where we are, but never give up. We have to finish the race. Sometimes we will lose, and sometimes we will win. But if we finish the race, in a way, we always win. Always.
We have to finish the book and we have to write as much as we can. On that beach, I realized I had so many emotions and thoughts about the time on earth we have here, as a mother and a woman, and the only way I can possibly make sense of this world is to write. Some people race. Some act. Some dream. We must find that place buried deep inside where we recognize the person we were when we were young and foolish and not afraid to believe in things that did not make rational sense.
The end of The Art of Racing in the Rain completes a cycle. I believe we are meant to read certain books at certain times in life, to delve deeper than we could before because the words the author wrote are meant to be yours. Maybe on that one hot afternoon on a beach. Or one quiet night snuggled beneath your covers as the rain falls outside the window. There are words that soothe and heal and inspire and make us happy. That is one of our gifts of being human, of being writers and readers.
My fingers quiver to write the words flowing through me, knowing I will get some right and more wrong. Knowing when I get home I will get down on my knees and pull my family close, because the curve around the racetrack is a hairpin turn and we never know what comes next. I will grab my two rescue dogs in my arms and scratch their bellies and let them slobber over me with gratefulness because I realize the souls I have glimpsed when our gazes meet and lock are timeless, old souls who may become human in their next go around.
The beach is my place, in Cape May. I remember who I am there, I revisit the person inside who is making this journey, and I say hello. I am then able to go back to my reality, and make dinner and give baths and run errands and fall into bed exhausted. I remember what I am here for, and then I am full again to go back and do it again and again.
What is your place? A beach, a special book, your comfortable bed? Is it in the corner of a room in your favorite chair where you remember who you are, even for a moment?
I hope everyone finds that place to reconnect…and to remember.
Stein, Garth. The Art of Racing in the Rain. Harper: New York, 2008.