The salt and the sea.

It was well after 11 p.m. when we made the left turn on to Grapeview Loop Road from Washington State’s Highway Three. The drive in had been quiet; the late hour meant that the rural highways we traveled were sparsely populated, and our rental car pressed quickly forward into the inky black night, following winding roads over waterways too dark to see.

“Wow,” came the response when we arrived at the beach. Even in darkness, my friends could tell that the place was special. I gave them a brief tour and then began to unpack, tired from the long day and hoping to head straight to bed. But as they climbed the spiral staircase to the loft and stood out on the upstairs balcony, transfixed by the smell of saltwater and the sound of the sea, I realized I had underestimated the ability this place still had to stagger first-time visitors.

It continued all weekend: my re-initiation to the beach. After spending so much of my life there, I had grown accustomed to the densely-forested walk along the loop road, the silver, flat-as-a-mirror inlet with its fluctuating tides, the fresh air, the ever-present Mt. Rainier, standing snowcapped over a great bank of evergreen trees. I had forgotten that not everyone spends their summers digging clams at low tide, or building bonfires on the beach, or watching playful seals hunt for food just outside of their front door. I suppose it isn’t normal to pick wild blackberries in the woods on the walk to Treasure Island, or to admire the sailboats docked in Fair Harbor Marina, while tracing a map of the inland waterways of Puget Sound.

The truth is, the beach still has the power to amaze me. Every summer, when I make the left turn from Grapeview Loop Road on to the property that my Grandfather bought in 1959, the sight of Case Inlet stretching out across the landscape still levels me. But along with that feeling of awe comes something else: grief. Every advancing summer takes me further away from the carefree days of childhood, serving as a reminder of how much has changed, how much has gone. Of all the places I’ve traveled, the beach is the place I love the most, but it is also a repository for some of my darkest and most painful memories. I wish it wasn’t so, but I can’t help it: every time I return there, so do the flood of images of happier times, and of loved ones lost.

We planned a Saturday morning boat ride, and though the day dawned cold and cloudy, we pressed forward anyway, undeterred. As we bundled up into flannels and fleeces, my friend Vim spotted an unusual sight from just outside the living room window: a dorsal fin. We gathered on the deck, the four of us passing around two sets of binoculars, and I saw something I had never witnessed in all my summers on Case Inlet: Orca whales. They were hundreds of miles from the ocean, swimming very close to shore, and seemingly in no hurry to reach their destination. As the trio – two babies and their mother – traveled slowly south, spouting water and occasionally breaking the surface, I felt a lump rise in my throat. This moment, amidst all that was familiar, was entirely new.

In the end, I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend my last few days before moving to New York than by sharing the place I grew up with some of my closest friends. I have come to accept the fact that there will always be sad memories contained along the rocky shores of Case Inlet. I can no more extract them from that place than I can the salt from the sea. But there are happy memories, too. Plenty of them, and even more so after this past weekend. After our boat ride, a group of friends and family gathered for a potluck lunch at my Grandfather’s house, and I thought about how he would have loved to hear the sound of laughter reverberating off the deck and out into the late summer afternoon. I thought about how the sight of those Orca whales proved one thing: despite all that’s happened, I haven’t lost my capacity for wonder. I think I just needed to see this old place again, but this time, through new eyes.

Until next time, friends.

Grateful.

Friends, I’d like you to meet Rick Lewis and his wife, Karrin.

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Rick dated my Mom in high school and on July 20, 1969, they watched Neil Armstrong become the first man to walk on the moon, through a black and white satellite feed broadcast from space, on a tiny TV set at my Grandparents’ beach cabin in Allyn, WA; the same waterfront paradise where I’ve been staying for the past week.

After my mother died, Rick found me (ahem, Facebook stalked me) and became my pen pal, but we only met in person for the first time yesterday. He hadn’t been out to the beach since that moon landing, nearly fifty years ago. But yesterday afternoon, on a perfect August day, he and his wife came by and piloted their boat toward shore and I jumped in, and we spent the afternoon telling stories and laughing and drinking wine and eating tapas and cruising around Case Inlet, the same body of water that my mother loved her whole life, the same body of water where two summers ago, my Aunt and Uncle and I climbed into a little tin boat and went out to sea to scatter her ashes.

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These last few weeks have been a wildly euphoric magic carpet ride, capped by such an incredibly special week at the beach with my family. I almost can’t believe how wonderful it all has been, so much so that I haven’t even really been able to sleep, probably because part of me is afraid this is all some sort of crazy dream.

As I write this, I’m crying, because being this happy has made me realize that I think I’d given up on the idea that I ever would be again. I thought the old Sarah, the sunshine-eyed girl that my Dad used to teasingly call Polyanna, was gone forever. Not because I’m a negative person – quite the opposite – but because for so long everything good seemed to be followed up by something horrifying and tragic and I had spent years crushed underneath the weight of so much sorrow and grief and pain that I simply couldn’t see my way out of it.

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I don’t know if it’s God or angels or magic or karma or what, but whatever force is at work in me now, I am just so grateful, grateful, grateful. I didn’t know my heart had the capacity to hold so much joy, but at 35 years old, it feels like I’m finally waking up to the beauty of what it means to be alive.

If you’re going through something, please hold on. Do it for me. Just over a year ago, I was crying so much I developed a paranoid fear of dying from dehydration (doesn’t that sound stupid and hilarious now?), and I was so achingly sad that out of desperation, I started writing myself “Get Well Soon” cards, putting them in the mail, and sending them to myself. I have been to the brink, and I have known real darkness, and somehow, some way, I came out the other side. And life is better and more beautiful than anything I could have ever dreamed. If I can get here from there, then trust me, so can you. Nothing is permanent in this life, my friends, not even our troubles. Believe that. I am living proof.

Until next time,

xx

Sarah

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Strong in our broken places.

“Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to. It’s not for them.”

-Unknown

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I spent Mother’s Day on a boat. The morning dawned with overcast skies and I was afraid that the marine layer would wrap itself around the coastline and not let go. To my surprise, the sun broke free from the fog’s grasp and by late morning, it was casting gentle rays of light out across the water, creating a perfect spring Southern California Sunday.

We never left the harbor. The boat was borrowed and expensive: a sleek, beautiful vessel complete with two bedrooms, a bathroom and a spacious deck. Far too valuable for any of us to pilot, even if we did know how, which of course, we didn’t. Besides, there was good food to eat and tequila to drink and – most importantly – girl talk to be had underneath that shaded canopy on the sea.

How do you celebrate a holiday when the person that holiday is built around celebrating is no longer with you? How do you continue to embrace gratitude for all that you’ve been given on an occasion that can’t help but remind you of all that you’ve lost? How do you keep moving forward, heart open, even on days when moving forward feels impossible?

I don’t know what works for other people, but here is what has been working for me, as a strategy for dealing with the difficult days: 1.) Surround yourself with your tribe. 2.) Do what feels good. 3.) Don’t apologize.

So this past Mother’s Day, that is exactly what I did. The three friends I shared that boat with are all brilliant, creative, generous, tough as nails, women. They also – like me – carry the scars of having lived on this planet long enough to have had their hearts broken. All of us have been humbled by the difficult days. And yet, it is in those difficult days that we have found our strength, our grace, and our empathy. We are, in the words of Ernest Hemingway, “Strong in our broken places.” These friends – and others like them – are my tribe. And these days, they’re the only people I feel like spending time with.

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One member of that tribe is my friend Sam. Sam is someone that I’m not sure that the old Sarah – the Sarah from before all the bad stuff happened – would have been friends with. Sam is a fiercely talented actress, and she moves through the world with an authority about who she is that the old me would have found intimidating. In truth, I still occasionally do find her intimidating, but mostly, I recognize her as a kindred spirit, someone that, through her own example, has given me permission to be the bolder, braver person that I know I am, deep down inside.

Not long after I met Sam – before we’d become the friends we are now – she invited me to a screening of a short film she co-produced and starred in, called Life Grows On*. It’s a twelve minute movie that follows the cycle of one woman’s life, illustrating how she responds to her own difficult days (and her joyful ones, too) in a way most women can relate to: by changing her hair. It’s a beautiful film, and I cried when I watched it. And I also knew that I wanted to be friends with the person who made it.

For me, these last few years have been a journey toward self-acceptance, of learning to give myself permission to be who I am. I’m not there yet, but I’m a lot further down that road than I used to be. And that is thanks in large part to friends like Sam:  friends who are teaching me that it is in our broken places where often, we are the strongest.

Surround yourself with your tribe. Do what feels good. Don’t apologize.

Until next time, friends.

*P.S. – You can watch Sam’s film Life Grows On by clicking here. I think you’ll be glad you did.

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