As I lay on the rock by the sea, I felt that my cheek was pressed against the warm breast of Christ. How I longed to remain there, a part of the island, listening to its heartbeat (which is the sea sighing on the shore or rushing against the cliffs). But just as John the Apostle was torn away from his Beloved, so too must I be.
What is it about Nahant that God should always kiss my face when I am there? Why is my heart divided between that place and dearest Canada? Why does it feel like home?
We explored, my sister and I, the haven I came to know so well last fall. We stepped barefoot through pink blossoms, scavenged for sea glass, dangled our feet above volatile waves. Grinning, we mounted bicycles and pedaled onto the mainland, following the coastline to breathe the salty breeze. We tried on summery dresses in the shops, splurged on frozen yogurt, shamelessly snapped pictures of the houses we loved. And we ended every day with our hair curling from the humidity, our faces flushed from joy and the sun.
In the airy spaces of a cathedral we witnessed a bishop lay his hands upon the heads of ordinary men and, by the Holy Spirit, transform them into the person of Christ. It was as simple and as powerful as it was two thousand years ago in the dusty land where the Savior lived—and my dear friend now among that age-old brotherhood of priests. Ah, how wondrous to receive the Eucharist from he who I met in Spain.
Beneath stained-glass windows we feasted on European cuisine, bellowed Irish ballads, and stumbled through line dances in celebration. Not since I was a child have I enjoyed a reception as much as I did that evening.
Celebrations continuing, we found ourselves crouched on boulders, prying with primal gusto into lobster that had only minutes before been live, now cooked to scarlet in seawater, dipped in melted butter. Such is how I first tasted lobster last summer, and how good is God to give my sister the same experience, on the same beach no less? By the brilliance of a burning Christmas tree and a wicker chair rooted from garbage, we laughed and nibbled on dark chocolate and sang into the night, while beneath the moon the water receded from the shoreline.
And because summer is too short, on the hottest afternoon we found ourselves leaping to our feet and racing down the beach into wicked-cold water, clothed and why not? We may have gasped and shrieked and gasped some more, and though we never dove under a second time, we never regretted diving the first. On sun-baked rocks we stretched out to muse on the mysterious ways in which life unfolds, intertwined with sufferings and blessings alike.
I think, though, that my most treasured memory is that last morning, a seamless memory from the evening before, because we never slept but remained awake to await the dawn. Barefoot, we were present when the world is most beautiful but most rarely seen. Softest blue light lit the sea. I sat on a bench above the beach, gazing upon the water below that could be a mermaid’s sparkling lagoon, my head resting against the mother and friend who is my kindred spirit. I will never forget her words: Even when you are away, 40 Steps is still a beautiful beach . . . Even when we are apart, we still have a beautiful friendship.
A few hours we slept by the sea, warmed by the naked sun, lulled by gulls. I laid my palm against the rock and wished to never leave. Yes, when away from that place, my heart strains toward it.
Because home is where you feel free.