It has always been a healing place for me. When I was a boy my family would go to Corona del Mar and Newport Beach, both less than an hour from where we lived outside of Los Angeles. As little kids we would play in the sand and my parents taught us how to swim in the ocean. I still sometimes hear my father’s voice reminding me never to “turn my back on the ocean.”
The beach would grow in its importance to me over the years. All through high school my friends and I would go to Newport Beach on weekends. I learned to bodysurf and loved every moment at the beach. In college, at Loyola Marymount University, I lived just five minutes from the beach. Once again, the beach became a place to run, swim, walk, whether with friends or on my own.
When I graduated from college, my first job was teaching at Irvine High School in Orange County, California. I found a great winter rental apartment in Newport Beach. So, for the first time, as much as I loved the beach, I would live here for two years.
What is it about the ocean that brings so much peace to so many people? I know I am not alone in my love for the ocean. But what is it that makes it such a place of peace and calm?
I have read some writers who think its tidal repetition subconsciously reminds us of the womb. The rhythm and constancy of the waves gets in sync with our heartbeats, our womb-memories– I don’t know if any of that is true but there is some sense there.
When I sit in the sand or walk along the beach, I can stare at the water for hours. There are few things I can look at for as long as I can watch the ocean. Perhaps because it is always changing and moving. Perhaps because not only does the water move, but the light as well.
Swimming in the ocean also brings me a distinctive kind of peace. Letting your body go with the power and rhythm of the waves invites a certain kind of surrender. The ocean’s rhythmic movement, making your body respond to the waves, all this requires a kind of humility. The ocean is one of the primal elements of life on earth that we, humans, cannot control. Diving into a breaking wave is exhilarating. Swimming with a cresting wave and riding it toward the shore thrills more than most sports I know. Your body is being hurled forward by a force you can love but not control.
Earlier this summer, we spent several days at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. We usually go to the southern end of Rehoboth Beach where there are fewer people and we can swim, lie on the sand, and just gaze at the constantly changing ocean. For me, it brings a kind of healing I can’t always explain. But I know the depth and truth of the healing.
Photograph: J. Ross, Sunrise at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware August, 2019