By Shaely Ritchey
There is a place I go when I need to ground myself. Here, cradled between land and sea, I feel at ease. My gaze wanders over the surface of things, my lungs expanding in my chest, my heart finding the rhythm of the waves that break upon the shore. The sound of the city above falls away, and I am cocooned by the sound of the water, the wind, and the gulls circling above. There is a deeper current to this place and when I am here, I begin to trace its course within myself as well.
Of course, like much of nature and life, this place isn’t always predictable. Sometimes the storms rage with the kind of ferocity that can only be respected from a distance. Anything else is courting danger with elements more powerful than myself. Sometimes the winter tides rise so high that the entirety of the beach is swallowed whole, only to be released when the sea is done with it.
In the midst of the storm, the horizon is hard to find. All one can focus on is keeping their head down or retreating inside while the wind and rain lashes against anything and everything. What we cannot see in these moments is that this is all a part of it. These blustery winter storms are what makes these seasonal coastlines as rich as they are. What seems destructive is in fact, the very birthplace of abundant life. It is in the cold and churning waters that nutrients are brought to the surface, supporting whole and complex chains of life that stretch inland.
It still catches me by surprise, but I know that after the waves have finished breaking their fury upon the shore, I can come and seek among the wreckage, the broken and the unbroken. Here I find glittering gems, taken from their original purpose and turned beautiful by the weather and wear they have endured. Beads of glass born from breakage exist at the same time as fragile snail shells that are somehow still whole despite the battering they have been through. I take the metaphors nature gives me and hold them close to my heart. Tucking them in my pocket for safekeeping. A reminder I can return to in times of scarcity.
When I am here, I am entirely present in my body I struggle to otherwise be – brought alive by each of my senses. I am present, but I am also drifting. While my hands move over the pebbles that adorn the beach, I find myself feeling as if I am holding something sacred, tracing it with my fingers. There is a precision to each of my movements, like a conductor leading an orchestra or a surgeon holding a scalpel. I am not a religious person, but I do believe that all humans have a spiritual element to their beings: though we may tune into, and honour it, in different ways.
I come here for myself, but at times I feel as though I am here for others, whispering my version of a prayer across the water. It seems to hold every secret, every wish, every mournful cry I tell to it, in confidence. All is held, considered, and returned to land in time.
I know I am not alone in feeling some sense of emotional impermanence when I am deep in my struggles. Though I know on an intellectual level I am loved and remembered, I cannot recall the feeling in these challenging moments, despite people’s best efforts. Still, when I find myself holding others tenderly in my own thoughts – practicing a version of what amounts to a loving-kindness meditation – I can begin to imagine that others must do the same for me at times. Perhaps it is mostly a practice that benefits the person generating the feelings of love and warmth as they hold someone in their mind’s eye, but some part of me (against my more scientific sensibilities) enjoys imagining that some kind of energy, radiates outward to the intended destination.
Sometimes I find this place of holding others in my thoughts when I am making art. I find a feeling and a sense of someone that fills me entirely, and I allow that feeling to unfold through creative processes. I hope that some of it can perhaps be felt when the final creation is gifted to the other person.
Perhaps it is the metaphor of searching through what is seemingly broken upon this beach, that brings those I love to mind. The scattering of shells and worn glass are not truly broken, only born into something new. Sometimes it is easier to see the promise of things in others, than it is in ourselves. I know it does not change the lonely feeling in the moment, but I am always honoured to hold hope, love, and tenderness for others when it may be challenging to do so for themselves. I know it can be hard to hear (and truly take in), but I want to offer this reminder that you can return to in times of scarcity. I cannot take away your pain, but I can be here beside you as we navigate through it. You exist in other people’s hearts and minds more than you know. Your life touches others: your presence is felt and cherished. You are loved, you are loved, you are loved.
Shaely is a registered nurse with interest in further education in nursing or medicine. She is also a passionate mental health advocate in her community. In her spare time she loves getting outdoors and photographing wildlife.
*Photo credits: Shaely Ritchey